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According to research by Housing Charity Shelter, “300,000 people are homeless in Britain”. The number escalates annually, often not the fault of those sleeping rough who have no home. Those who free themselves from homelessness are left with physical and mental scarring from being in constant danger, continually reminded of the struggles they faced. So why as a nation do we not offer the homeless sufficient support? Those living on the streets will face mental health issues, suffering ongoing stress trying to support themselves with what little they possess; literally other people’s loose change.
An alarming statistic indicates “72 in every 100 will suffer from mental health issues” (anxiety, depression, fear, loss of self-esteem/confidence). In addition, being homeless amplifies mental health illnesses or may have indeed caused them to become homeless. It can bring back or increase any previous / existing mental health issues. Sleeping rough brings you face to face with many scary and violent situations – leaving you traumatised – amplifying your stress and anxiety. Hence depression rates are over 10 times higher in the homeless population. With inadequate support, homeless people will never truly recover from their mental illness which may either have been manifested by or worsened by their “sleeping rough”experiences.
As well as suffering from mental illness their physical health is impaired from sleeping on cold, hard, uneven grounds or being used as a punch bag by drunk lager louts. They sleep anywhere; from the pavement to a shop doorway or even a park bench. Imagine, a doorway is your bedroom, your kitchen, your living-room and your bathroom all in one. Have you ever thought what it would be like on the streets for a night? Cold, Hungry, Painful. Just three physical symptoms of sleeping rough. In addition, sleep deprivation is a major problem.Try sleeping with the apprehension and constant threat of being attacked or robbed. Being assaulted for no reason exacerbates the problem, fights start over where to sleep or people taking what they have; a staggering “56 in 100 suffer from long-term physical health issues”.
Night time is the worst for homeless people – Dangerous, Damp, No sleep – literally fighting for survival from dusk till dawn. The homeless have insufficient medical attention, unable to seek assistance without an address. Doctors should tend to the homeless, with regular emotional and physical check-ups reducing deterioration to their health later in life. Once homeless little outside help is provided, and in seeking guidance from the aid available they face discrimination and lack of compassion.Where family is not the reason for homelessness, family members could be supportive offering a temporary place to sleep until they get back on their feet. If relying on family is not possible a social worker could be responsible for their care, helping to find accommodation and offering financial support. Searching for employment at the Jobcentre is hard without an address as you can’t claim job seekers allowance; without employment how can we possibly expect to eradicate homelessness?
Living on the street gives you little access to basic hygiene we take for granted like showering and washing our clothes. If you had been (filthy and foul-smelling) while seeking employment, would you have the job you are in now? Why can we not see past an appearance, sympathising with the predicament they are in? We must educate the country to help as you can become homeless from the smallest of mistakes but once homeless it takes an immense struggle to get off the streets. Without help it’s impossible. Some drop a coin and ask about their day; others cross the street avoiding eye contact. Furthermore, if we offer the homeless more opportunities in improving their education, or provide work experience this could help their self-confidence and mental health. Is this not the key to unlock opportunities and prospects to a better future?
Sleeping rough involves many detrimental situations to your well being. The following statistics show how dangerous and destitute it is ”More than 1 in 3 have been deliberately attacked or experienced violence. Greater than 7% are sexual assault victims (55% of the cases not knowing the attacker)”. Kicked, Punched, Beaten – or even worse. Some homeless are even set on fire so can be constantly aware of dangers that may jeopardise their safety. But why don’t more homeless people seek hostels for refuge? Do the perpetual complaints about poor facilities, lack of beds and privacy have substance? They often prefer to be all alone with a cigarette to keep warm, a cigarette to stop the hunger pains, a cigarette to ease the anxiety. Something they can find comfort in, with no one to support and help them.
There is the constant threat from weather: hot summer days – the risk of sunburn and heatstroke, long winter nights – the risk of frostbite and pneumonia. Enough safe and secure hostels/shelters are required to alleviate worry about waking up having lost everything they possess. Not everyone on the streets is truly homeless. In fact, some deceptive people find begging an easy way to make money, relying on the sympathy of others who presume they are homeless and down on their luck. One Christmas I watched a man sit down beside a sleeping homeless person who was begging for money and masquerade as his friend. It was shocking seeing him take advantage of the poor man passed out with exhaustion on the street ; exploiting the compassion and generosity of walkers by, accepting their money.
When the homeless person stirred from sleeping, the fake quickly moved on with his earnings. It’s a shame for people who really need the money if others are faking homelessness, but how are we meant to tell who is homeless and who is fake? Sadly, as a society, we are susceptible to prejudice, ready to presume that street beggars are “faking” it, in turn creating hostility towards beggars. The homeless have no money, no house, no job: they depend on our generosity, but still we resent them. How can we judge the money we give them may be spent on an addiction? Instead, offer a drink, food or friendly chat. Those begging on the streets are the ones we see, so desperate with nowhere else to go and no help, but what about the thousands we can’t see; there are families living in cars and young people sleeping on friends’ sofas.We must help them too before they also end up living on the streets, and in turn battling with a lifetime of mental health issues.
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