Homeless or hopeless? Thinking Tank 20.01.2011

A thoughtful discussion with widespread empathy for the cruelty of homelessness and its impact not just practically but in a wider sense

  • it must simply be awful if involuntary
  • being homeless would be an extreme vulnerability nowhere to rest

Why does it happen?

There was reflection on the individual’s state of mind and external factors combining to create this situation

  • Causes: chaotic life style, inability to cope, loss of job, mental health issues, ill equipped to cope with life (life skills absent) lack of self esteem exacerbating chaos and belief of inability to cope eg forget to pay the rent so evicted
  • Cause: discharge from institutions definitely but also loss of financial resources, running away ( yes children but also adults), nowhere to go/maybe thrown out, no resources at all. That said a few do actually choose it.
  • I feel sorry for homeless women and children who have had to escape domestic violence
  • And those who are homeless because their home was destroyed by war or natural disaster

… as well as acceptance of shared responsibility for the issue.

  • [we need to] think radically about housing solutions that ignore everything we know and look afresh at the issues
  • The practical issues of being homeless seem secondary to the causes (practical or psychological). No point addressing the symptoms and not the cause


No talk of the homeless as a problem to others, begging or other negative issues raised in the popular press. The reaction was much more humane:

  • downside: wasted human potential
  • downside: children growing up homeless must struggle to ever feel secure / worthwhile
  • there is a big moral implication
  • downside: home has become associated with personal value. Someone with a big house counts for more than someone with a small house who counts more than someone with no house. A big house is a delight, but doesn’t make a better person
  • downside: the children get bullied/miss education and the cycle continues
  • temporary = feeling insecure
  • [feeling] Damp cold lonely miserable depressed unloved

Benefits of a sense of home

  • Home is not a building but a feeling of belonging which is essential to a feeling of wellbeing and worth
  • Home is an internal feeling not an external condition

Actions and Ideas

Both personal and political actions were suggested and these are the most supported:

  • One evening I took 2 homeless guys on the street to Pizza Hut. They enjoyed the meal but more importantly we all 3 had a great conversation. Gave me a lot  of insight and re-humanised the homeless for me.
  • Think radically about housing solutions that ignore everything we know and look afresh at the issues
  • Lobby government, read widely, school offspring to avoid debt
  • Redevelop the concept of govt housing but in a society based context, not just a poverty farm on the fringes of town. Ensure formerly homeless people are properly supported and become part of their new neighbourhood
  • Try to separate the wealth / ownership side of housing from the home related issues. eg Allow wealthier people to buy shares in someone else’s home. Not to live there  but get some of the benefit of value increase.
  • provide homes for people who are made homeless because they have left their previous “home” for good reasons ( abuse, …)

Note that all statements in italics are verbatim comments that received support and little or no opposition from the group. Those in bold had no opposition and the highest level of support.

The last word from one of our participants

  • thank you for providing such an important platform and a lively debate.

For further information on this subject see:

  • The Big Issue exists to offer homeless and vulnerably housed people the opportunity to earn a legitimate income. http://www.bigissue.org.uk/
  • Shelter – help us help who’s next to lose their home. http://www.shelter.org.uk/
  • and many others in your country or on twitter (search #homelessness)

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