The year I turned 20, I found myself without a place to call home in the country I was studying in. My parents lived in another country, and the friend of my parents I lived with during the holidays made it clear living with them was no longer viable. Struggling to find somewhere to live as the lease for the room I was renting in a shared student flat ended, I suddenly found myself with nowhere to live.
It’s so much easier to find yourself ‘homeless’ than most of us realize. A few unlucky situations and then if things start spiralling out of control like I experienced, life can fall apart pretty quickly. I was luckier than most in that I had friends I could rely upon. I just had to survive a couple of months crashing on different friends’ sofas before I managed to line something up.
When I hear the accounts of young people who end up homeless or on the streets for extended periods of time, I recognize how fortunate I was. I didn’t have any mental health problems to contend with, neither was I in a situation where I couldn’t get access to financial assistance to pay a deposit when I eventually found somewhere to live within my means. Yet for a while, my studies and health suffered dramatically compounding the anxiety I was experiencing about my predicament. When you don’t have somewhere secure to live there is so much that gets to you that you can’t predict. For a start there’s the worrying about the future, the fears of exhausting the goodwill of those you are leaning on, in addition to not having a space of your own where you can get yourself together in your downtime. If my situation had endured much longer than it did, who knows how I might have been impacted; I saw for myself how quickly things started to get out of control for me.
No one should underestimate how stabilizing having a place one can call home is, the value of having one’s own personal space and not having to live out of a bag stashed behind a door. Young people have relatively less resources and disposable income than working adults. This isn’t necessarily about welfare as much as it is about how we adequately support people to hold their lives together when they fall on hard times. When you’re no longer a minor in the eyes of the law but not settled into adult status, you are somewhere in between without having the same degree of protection the former have.
Across the city I live in and the rest of the UK, there are many home owners who have spare rooms in their houses they give little thought to, people who don’t need to do any financial juggling to keep their lives afloat. It is so unreal the inequality that exists where some can have so much at their fingertips by virtue of factors beyond their control like the countries or families they are born into whilst others have relatively little. As someone from a middle class background with a fair amount of safety nets, I still almost fell through the cracks, how much more those with less resilience and opportunities?
How do societies adequately cater for those who by sheer misfortune or an unstable upbringing find themselves struggling? Even when societies make some provision available, the information isn’t always readily available and there are often bureaucratic hoops to navigate to access such resources. So obsessed are many conservatives with ensuring others don’t get access to resources without having worked hard like they feel they have, they are resistant to making decent housing freely available. As a society in the UK, people or rather the media, seem to spend more time worrying about free-riders than about wealthy people utilizing and bending ‘legal’ schemes to reduce the income they can be taxed on. The more fortunate in society who use being a landlord to fund their lives could start to examine how considerate they are to would-be tenants. Creating more affordable housing that is owned by communities would help to ensure people aren’t spending the bulk of their income on paying rent to private landlords rather than for the gain of the collective. It would also be good to see communities providing more assistance to people who are struggling with life before they get to the point of being homeless. Ultimately these are just a few ideas but they’re a start in the right direction.