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According to research by Housing Charity Shelter, “300,000 people are homeless in Britain” (that’s 1 in 200). The number keeps escalating year on year and in many cases, it is not the fault of those who are sleeping rough that they have become without a home. Those who manage to free themselves from homelessness are still left with the physical and mental scarring of being in constant danger and are continually reminded of the struggles they faced while getting out of the situation. So why as a nation do we not offer the homeless sufficient support? Whilst living on the streets homeless people will often face mental health issues with the ongoing stress of having to try and support themselves with what little they possess; literally people’s loose change. An alarming statistic shows 72 in every 100 homeless people suffer from mental health issues for example anxiety, depression and fear can be a result of the stress of sleeping rough and loss of self-esteem/confidence a consequence of feeling alienated due to how others treat them. In addition, being homeless amplifies mental health illnesses or the mental health may have indeed caused them to become homeless, it can bring back or increase any previous / existing mental health issues.
Sleeping rough would bring you face to face with many scary and violent situations – the experiences can leave you traumatised – amplifying the stress and anxiety of a life on the streets 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 the experiences they have witnessed whilst sleeping rough. As well as suffering from a mental illness they also struggle with physical health effects from sleeping on cold, stone, uneven grounds to being used as a punch bag by drunk lager louts. They sleep anywhere they can lay their head; from the ground to a shop doorway or park bench, even on a night bus. Just imagine, a doorway is a bedroom, a doorway is a kitchen, a doorway is a living-room and a doorway is a bathroom.
Have you ever thought what it would be like to live on the streets for a night?
Cold, Hungry, Painful. These are just three of the physical symptoms of sleeping rough but the mental effects far outweigh the physical. In addition sleep deprivation is a major problem, try falling asleep with the apprehension and constant threat of being attacked or robbed whilst you sleep. They are often assaulted for no reason which exacerbates the problem, they can find themselves in fights over where they are sleeping or people trying to take what they have, a staggering “56 in every 100 suffer from long-term physical health issues”. Night time is the worst for homeless people – Dangerous, Damp, No sleep they are literally fighting for survival from dusk till dawn. The homeless have insufficient attention from doctors, as they are unable to seek medical assistance without an address. There should be medical assistance available to the homeless, if they were regularly provided with health check-ups of both emotional and physical symptoms then many of them may not suffer so badly with illnesses that deteriorate their health later in life. Once homeless you receive little outside help to get back on your feet again, even when seeking the guidance of those who are meant to help they can face discrimination and lack of compassion.
Where family is not the reason for the homelessness, family members should try to be supportive or even offer a place to sleep until they get back on their feet again. If relying on family is not an option a social worker could be asked to take responsibility for their care, helping to find accommodation and offering financial support. When searching for employment at the Jobcentre it is hard to get a job without an address as you can’t claim job seekers allowance, but without employment how can we possibly expect to eradicate homelessness? Living on the street would give you no access to basic hygiene we take for granted like having a shower and washing our clothes if you were (filthy and foul-smelling) when you were seeking employment, do you think you would had got the job you are in right now? So why can we not see past an appearance, rather than judge should we not sympathise with the predicament they have found them themselves in? We should educate the country on what help the homeless people need as you can become homeless from the smallest of mistakes but once you become homeless it takes an immense struggle to get off the streets. Without help it’s impossible. Some would drop a coin and ask them about their day; others would cross the street so they don’t have to make eye contact with them. It is hard for homeless to get Medical care as they have insufficient attention from doctors which can obviously worsen their physical condition.
Furthermore symptoms become more profound as hostels don’t offer a safe, comfortable and relaxing environment with the support they need which results in a worsening of their symptoms. If we were to offer the homeless more opportunities such as improving their education, attending college courses or work experience this could help their self-confidence, state of mind and mental health. Can we not offer them the key to unlock opportunities and prospects to a better future? Sleeping rough can be very dangerous, you can experience many situations that could be detrimental to your well being. The following statistics show how dangerous and destitute it is on the streets ”You are 15 times more likely to be assaulted, more than 1 in 3 have been deliberately attacked or experienced a form of violence. Greater than 7% have been the victim of sexual assault and what is more in 55% of the cases the victim didn’t know the attacker”. Kicked, Punched, Beaten – or even worse.
Some homeless are even set on fire, obviously this is something that is always in the back of their mind, they are constantly looking over their shoulder for any dangers that may jeopardise their safety. But why do more homeless people not seek a hostel for refuge, could it be that the perpetual complaints about poor facilities, lack of beds and privacy have substance? 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 when no one is there to support and help them. Not to mention there is the constant threat of weather : during the hot summer months – the risk of sunburn and heatstroke, during the long winter nights – the risk of frostbite and pneumonia. There should be enough safe and secure hostels and shelters that no one has to worry about falling asleep on the streets and waking up having lost everything they own. Not everyone on the streets is truly homeless. In fact some find that begging is an easy way to make money, using the sympathy of others who presume they are homeless and down on their luck.
One New Year’s Eve I watched a very deceptive man purposely sit down next to a sleeping homeless person who was begging for money and masquerade as his friend. It was shocking to see how he took advantage of this poor homeless man who had passed out with exhaustion on the street. As passers-by walked on past he exploited the compassion and generosity people were feeling that night and accepted their money, when the homeless person stirred from sleeping, realising he had made plenty money, the fake quickly got up and moved on. It is such a shame for the people who are homeless as those faking homelessness are stealing money from people who really need it, but how are we meant to tell who is homeless and who is a fake? That is to say sadly, as a society we are susceptible to prejudice, ready to presume that beggars on the street may be “faking” it, which in turn has created a hostility towards all beggars. The homeless have no money, no house, no job: they depend on our generosity, but yet still we seem to hold this resentment against them. How can we walk by in judgement that they will only spend any money we give them on an addiction, or that they may inflict a crime upon us should we attempt to help? Instead, why do we not offer them something to drink, to eat, some friendly chat or advice. Those begging on the streets are the ones we can see, they have become so desperate they have nowhere else to go and no one to help, but what about the thousands we can’t see, there are families living in cars and young people sleeping on friends sofas, we need to help them too before they also end up living a life on the streets, and in turn battling with a lifetime of mental health issues.
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