They say that we are all just one decision away from a completely different life and until recently, I didn’t really understand the significance of it. After the tenancy for my house was not renewed (due in part to the breakdown of the relationship with my ex who I lived with) I was at first completely relieved. My house in South East London had problems with damp, the front door didn’t lock properly and one morning I woke up to find human shit coming up through the bath plug. On the moving out day I was young, single and ready to take on the world.
But unfortunately, I’d not managed to find another house in time and I found myself ‘without a fixed address’ – which was the term I used to soften the blow when I had to tell people I was actually homeless. For two months I lived out of a suitcase I left in the office and most mornings I’d wake up with the nauseating feeling of not knowing where I’d be sleeping that night. Unlike many other homeless people, I was saved by the generosity of friends around me who often tirelessly and lovingly found me a living room floor, a couch or if I was really lucky, a bed.
Not having a home is one of the most stressful things I’ve experienced. A home cooked meal, being able to wash your underwear when you’re coming to your final pairs and being able to sleep whenever you feel like it became luxuries to me. What seemed to be the greatest burden to me, though, was how it effected my mind. I was exhausted, constantly anxious and I was plagued by a persistent feeling of shame. I felt like a failure.
But I can’t really complain because in all honesty, I got lucky. I landed on my feet and I eventually found somewhere to live. This isn’t the case though for others. From April to June this year, 3,090 18-24 year olds have become homeless and that’s somewhat lower than the actual figure. Authorities struggle to truly understand the real scale of the problem because quite often, these young people are not counted in official stats and reports. This is in part due to young people seeking refuge from voluntary organisations and also because some will stay temporarily with friends or family. Many areas of the country don’t have appropriate emergency accommodation for this age group, so where are they supposed to go?
There is often a sort of ignorant opinion that these people choose to live on the streets, that they fell blindly into drug abuse or they somehow made a string of mindless mistakes that they refused to take responsibility for. But I, for one, am proof that opinions like this are unjustified; I’m a young woman with a good job, I’ve worked since I was 17, I pay my taxes and I actively dislike Donald Trump.
Granted, sometimes those who find themselves homeless suffer with substance abuse and have a criminal record but 65% of those who are homeless are actually either employed or are studying. There are wider and potentially more worrying factors contributing to this problem: unemployment, a declining housing supply, detrimental changes in welfare policies and poverty. Having lived in London for 3 years I’ve at first hand seen friends 6 months behind in rent, losing pounds in weight because they cannot afford to eat and turning to drugs and booze to escape it.
Thankfully, although the level of homeless people in this age group remains too high and the proportion of those who are women is steadily increasing, the percentage of those sleeping on the streets has fallen. But 18-24 year olds still make up nearly half of the homeless population and are statistically more likely to find themselves living in poverty.
I don’t claim to have the answer to this problem, but if you walk down the street and a young homeless person asks for 50p or stops you at the bus stop to chat, maybe think twice before you blank them. They may have been an aspiring writer, a doctor, someone’s best mate. And as they say, we are all one decision away from a different life.