I’m going to pin my colours to the mast here.
Having a Home is a Human right.
Housing (as well as medical treatment, education and public transport) should be free and available to every single person. Unconditionally. I don’t think using Houses as “investments” has been a healthy development for us as a species; No-one needs a second home let alone a third or fourth; smug revulsion of anyone who has chosen to remain in a family home with multiple generations has not only contributed to the housing crisis but has been instrumental in damaging the foundations of community living. Know this: I deeply believe we are designed for community living, for multiple generation communities, for sharing rearing of children outside of our “nuclear” family. It feels glib these days to trot out “it takes a village to raise a child”, but it’s one of my core values – and not only because I don’t have my own children to ruin. Oh and it should go without saying, but is rarely acknowledged, that this imperative to procreate and to only acknowledge immediate biological connections; to double down on biological parents essentially “owning” their children; to paint concern and love from others not directly biologically related as interference – all that feeds directly into homophobia and anti-queerness.
I seem to have gone off on a tangent… Let’s start over.
I have done a lot of camping in my life. Ranging from Glamping, to attending Christian festivals, to Mountainside Bivvying; I have tented and sleeping bagged and carried water. I have gone without showers, I have burned myself on a Trangia, I’ve kipped in the car. I’ve navigated through storms, waited up til midnight for teenagers, toasted marshmellows. It is not an understatement to say I am very experienced in camping. All that to say is that not one minute of that will prepare me for sleeping on the streets if an English City.
When a good friend of mine mentioned she would be doing a sleep out event in Preston to support a local charity (The Foxton Centre) and asked a group of us if we wanted to join, I was hesitant at first. Not because I don’t think we should help homeless people, but for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, the size of the problem. It’s not just making sure everyone has a home (in current social environment difficult enough), but deep systemic changes that change our attitude to home ownership, to finance/investment, to social responsibility, to the root causes that lead to people ending up on the streets (Just one stat here as an example – 40% of homeless youth are LGBT). it’s all just so … big. There was also a reticence to do it because homelessness along with all the symptoms of poverty is not a “24 hour challenge”. It’s not a “gig” or a gimmick. It’s relentless; depression, despair and darkness. With no end.
I can sleep a night on a concrete floor in an Association Football Stadium and then go home the next day to a bed and soup and a toilet and my DVD collection. I’m not interested in “performative poorness”. I can’t experience what a homeless person experiences, because I know it’s going to end for me.
You can see why I can so easily become despondent.
But you know what, no matter the size, you can’t even make a dent if you don’t make a start. Break the problem up into smaller parts and have a go at each one from different angles. If I’m terrified of the size of the system that needs to be dismantled, then I’m going to focus instead on the person in front of me in need. I can make a small difference, to a small group of people. But to them it’s everything. And that’s why it matters. The system is the issue yes, but the individuals don’t care about that when they have warm bread and a good bed. Remember way back when I talked about Oskar Schindler – “He who saves the life of one man saves the world entire”. Yup. That’s what I’m talking about.
And I’m not going to pretend that my night in a sleeping bag on a cold November night will help me understand homelessness any more or less than I already do. But it is, for one night, a show of solidarity. It’s a statement – I got your back. For one night I’m going to identify with you. And then I’m not going to shut up about getting more help for you. I’m not going to stop trying to overturn this toxic system that got you here, but I’m also not going to stick to words, I’m going to make sure you have bread and a bed.
When I think about what’s going to be difficult on a Friday evening in the middle of November – it’s not going to be potential lack of sleep (honestly, having slept stood up in Gatwick Airport one time, I’m aware that if tired enough I really can sleep anywhere). It’s going to be… where will I go to the toilet? If I’m on my period, what the heck am I going to do? Where will I wash, what am I going to have for breakfast? It’s going to be, the utter lack of personalised space, the lack of nick nacks and keepsakes and bits and bobs that make my home a home. It’s going to be I can’t just nip downstairs and get a painkiller or fill up the hot water bottle. It’s going to be both zero privacy and an intangible loneliness.
I’m going to end this with asking for money. A statement and solidarity is all very well, but in the short term, money is why I’m doing it and money is what’s needed to patch the leak – fixing the pipe comes later with lots of work from all of us.
You’ll find our Total Giving page here – Please consider giving generously – not because I’m going to be cold and tired and uncomfortable for one night in November – but because there are people who will be cold and tired and uncomfortable in November and December and January… in 2020,2021,2022.