Why We Can't End Homelessness

Lisa Peterson
September 12, 2022
2-3 minute read

Anybody who has known me for more than five minutes knows that I have a deep passion for homelessness, and that this has been the case since experiencing it myself after leaving an abusive relationship. Whilst homelessness is my deepest passion, it is also the bane of my existence. Aside from homelessness itself, there are three major issues I have with it – 1. The exclusiveness of the homelessness sector 2. That people think the solution to homelessness is in the name and conclude we need housing 3. People think they can end homelessness. I appreciate this sounds negative, but stay with me and you’ll see that it’s not as bad as it sounds.

1.    The exclusiveness of the homelessness sector

The PaTH project we are currently working on at CBBC does a more comprehensive job at explaining this than I ever could in a short article. Essentially, people with lived experience of homelessness (PWLEH) are either not included in decision making or if we are, it’s often tokenistic or a tick box exercise. The problem I have with this is that as a wise woman said to me while I was experiencing homelessness, “The biggest problem with homelessness is that those who tell us what’s good for us have never lived it, they’ve only ever learned about it in books.” The lack of lived experience means ‘outcomes’ are often traumatic, resulting in people staying in the cycle, which ends up being damaging to frontline workers who have to deal with the backlash from traumatised people. The homelessness sector needs to catch up to all the other social service sectors for the sake of people experiencing homelessness (PEH) and their workers.

2.    That people think the solution to homelessness is in the name and conclude we need housing

It makes no sense to me when people talk about the ‘problem of homelessness’ being in the name and then jump to the conclusion that the solution is housing. If the ‘problem’ is in the name ‘homelessness’, then surely the solution would be ‘HOME’. To me, this is where the lack of engagement with PEH comes into play. I’ve lost count of how many PEHI’ve spoken with over the years, and while yes, the vast majority want housing, there’s a significant number of people who don’t. For some people, they are more ‘home’ on the street within their community, where they have a sense of belonging, where they contribute and have purpose, where they have people they can celebrate and lament with, and where they feel their basic needs are met than they ever will be in a house. For some, being housed makes them homeless. This leads very nicely to my next point.

3.    People think they can end homelessness

The reason we can’t ‘end homelessness’ is not because I’m negative, it’s because ‘home’ is a feeling and not a place. The sense of ‘home’ rarely means the exact same thing to two or more people. For some, home means family; for others, it means not having family anywhere near. Others may say it includes friends; while others will say it excludes them. ‘Home’ is a feeling and we are no more likely to end homelessness than we are anger, depression, or sadness. What we absolutely can end is houselessness, but that’s an entirely different conversation and one that nobody is having; perhaps we should?

Homelessness is an awful thing to experience, but just as people can be housed and homeless, others can be houseless and homed.
A cardboard house sits next to the stone wall of a building. There is a trolley of personal belongings to one side of the cardboard house. Rubbish and a bin sits on the opposite side. There is an upside down milk crate to the front. The cardboard of the house has messages written in different colours on the walls. There is a heart drawn on the door to the house with text that reads 'everyone deserves love love looks like something'. end

It is only through engaging with and listening closely to people with a lived/living experience that we can truly understand this and develop person-centric solutions. If we don’t listen, we end up with people thinking they can end an emotion and create cookie-cutter responses that leave both the person at the centre and frontline workers traumatised. Those of us with a deep passion for homelessness need to drop the arrogance, listen to people with a lived/living experience, and change the dialogue so that we can find solutions where everybody is home.

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