Homelessness is a journey that anyone can go on.

I first published this post when I moved out of a homeless hostel and into my flat almost five years ago, but it still is relevant today. I was inspired to repost it by The York Road Project who just posted this picture on twitter.
Homelessness is a journey that anyone can go on. You don’t have to be an addict, a criminal or have mental health issues just to experience homelessness.

I’m sure most of you have reasonable lives. You have a place that you can call home, a place where you feel comfortable and secure. Somewhere that is safe, that you can relax in. I guess that the vast majority of you have jobs, an income, and a means of earning a wage that you’re comfortable with, a way of paying your way. Most of you will have loved ones, wives, husbands or partners. You’ll have families or at least aspire to having a family; social lives with good friends. Maybe you’re a member of a golf club or gym, member of a church or club. You have a life with meaning and purpose, moving forward, full of dreams, of hopes and with a future.

So here’s the question, “What would happen if you took all of that away; took away your job, your home, your family, even the shirt off your back? How would you feel if you lost everything that you owned?”

How would you cope with every ounce of pride and self-esteem being ripped away from you? What would it be like to have the last bit of self worth and self respect torn dispassionately from your very being? Plunging into a world of darkness and despair; a world so alien; a world of having to beg or steal just to survive; a place where you question your sanity, your very being and even question your reason for existence? Do you know what it is like to cry out, to scream for something to take the pain away? Do you? And in amongst all the confusion and pain would you not spend that last few pounds that you have on something to do that, a beer, wine or stronger? And when you wake up at dawn after your first night of homelessness confused, disorientated, cold and aching without a penny to your name and no-one to turn to for help would you climb into some ones garden and drink from their standpipe quenching your thirst and filling your belly?

Where would you go for help in this alien world? Can you imagine what it’s like, with tears cutting through the grime on your face, to go and ask for help, beg to be given a chance, having to admit that you’re a failure? Just imagine what it would feel like to breakdown in front of another man and plead, to lay down your life in front of him in the hope that you deserve help.

Has it ever occurred to you how you would cope with being sent from pillar to post listening to conflicting stories, being told “no sorry we can’t help because……..you’re not this or not that…….you don’t quite fit or you’re not vulnerable enough”? How would you manage the frustration of not being able to help yourself and yet every day you know that you’re slipping further and further into an abyss? Now, if you can, try and imagine the fear that you would have and what that fear would be about.

Could you rely on charity for a hot meal and a drink at the end of the day? What about sleeping in a church hall with the stench of unkempt men, dirty and sweaty from the reek of the streets? The smell of their breath, body odour and stale alcohol burning like acid on the back of your throat. Would you not be praying endlessly at night for a room of your own with a lock and a bed?

How would you battle a system that appears not to want to help; a system of silos that wants only a tick in a box; a system of computers devoid of all compassion and care; a system that seems to want to beat you into becoming its slave and to knock you down and down again? When you’re trying so hard to hold yourself together, hanging onto the last strands of your sanity and the system asks the impossible of you or looks down at you with scorn and loathing trying to trick you into failure, to stay calm and focused is no small feat is it? It’s not easy to be patient and up-beat when repeatedly asked the same questions over and over and over again.

So you get a room in a hostel for the homeless, a hostel where survival of the fittest is the unwritten rule. A place where most of the residents have only ever known alcohol, drugs, abuse and violence and who are nearly all familiar with the law in one way or another. I wonder what you would do living on a landing full of alcoholics and drug addicts driven not by normal human emotions but consumed by getting their next drink or fix. And if you did know what you would do, what would that be?

Could you call upon every last ounce of strength that you have, stand up and fight and fight again and again? What are you like at your best?

It would be difficult for you to imagine the feeling of real optimism that you get when an offer of help is passed your way. You won’t have felt the true warmth of a smile given with compassion and care across a desk by someone who can and wants to help and the hope that that brings. It’s amazing how by someone having a little belief and faith in you how much belief and faith you gain in yourself.

I guess that you won’t know the camaraderie of men without hope or a cause. I can’t explain what it means to be trusted by people who can tell you their stories of joy and of complete and utter despair. The understanding of where I was and why all types of people can be there and why so many struggle to move on in their lives is not something that you find in books. It’s not easy to put into words, but it is something that you can feel, and only when you really begin to listen do really get to understand.

How can you understand what the security of a locked door and all the safety and comfort it can bring? Can you really appreciate a place called home unless you’ve lost one and slept without? You can’t appreciate what it’s like to slide, clean and naked, between fresh crisp sheets and lay your head on a pillow as I. Or cook and clean the same way I do now.

Now in a flat that I can call my home, I get to appreciate the real things in my life. I no longer measure wealth by the cars on my drive or days at the golf club. My passion is not now pound notes and conversations are not about the value of my house or the latest trip abroad anymore. They’re about my peers who taught me that there is always someone worse off than yourself. My passion is now people who can’t speak up or defend themselves, and my wealth is measured in happiness delivered through the projects I’ve set up or are involved with.

You won’t appreciate the battle I’ve had to get back the self esteem and confidence stolen from me. How easy it is, to lie down and give up. It’s too simple to turn round and submit to a life that masks all of the pain. It’s harder to fight to get back what is yours, your dignity.

What I do want is for you to believe how strong you are, how amazing as human beings we can be. I want you to understand that however dark or bad it gets, deep inside we all have the strength to overcome anything. But I don’t want you to go were I’ve been to find that out. I don’t want you to learn the lessons of humility the way I needed to, or of respect in quite the way I did.

I do hope that one day you will understand the shame that I feel when I watch men spit and stare at a man worse off, the shame I feel for their lack of humanity and compassion.

And I would like you to share my passion to help, because I do know what a great place this would be if each and every one of us could look into the eyes of those worse off, whoever they are and whatever their circumstances and say “I care”.

You see, here’s the thing to remember;

Homelessness is a journey that anyone can go on. You don’t have to be an addict, a criminal or have mental health issues just to experience homelessness.