The dehumanisation of the homeless
It probably won’t surprise you to hear that, in Britain at the moment, there is a huge homelessness problem, and one that is continually getting worse. While statistics about homelessness are notoriously hard to gather, the samples that charities and the government have managed to attain highlight a definite increase in homelessness. In fact, the statistics for rough sleeping in particular show that the number of people sleeping on the streets has at least doubled within the last decade.
These statistics are dreadful, to the point of almost being unbelievable. But, in some ways, what is more disturbing is the complete lack of compassion so many people display in response to them. I was under the impression that the saying was “out of sight, out of mind”, but it turns out that we as a society can ignore any problem if we choose to, no matter how big or how prevalent it is.
I can’t deny that there is a lot of cultural anxiety surrounding homelessness, but the particular way it manifests is counter-productive and, quite frankly, pretty disturbing. For example, I have heard a highly privileged individual air their personal concerns with the issue of homelessness, and been appalled, though not hugely shocked, when they cited the root of their anger: that a homeless person begging for money outside a Selfridges made them feel uncomfortable and guilty as they were walking in.
However, despite the dehumanisation of the homeless that occurs on an individual basis, it is very clear that the main contributing factor to our selective cultural blindness definitely stems from the top. It’s not always obvious, but there are so many examples of how the government displays their animosity to homeless people and undermines their cause.
Examples of governmental hostility do tend to slip under the radar, but, if you look hard enough, you can see it, clear as day. From the banning of homeless peoples’ peaceful protests, as occurred in Manchester a couple of years ago, to the introduction of spikes on benches and pavements to keep people from sleeping on them, the government has slyly and consistently made its feelings towards the homeless quite clear.
What continues to baffle me though is the cost at which this systematic animosity comes. The government have to spend a huge amount of money on providing homeless people with shelter, hospital rooms, and jail cells, as well as on other support services that are in place. A far more efficient way of using this money to tackle the problem would be to house homeless individuals, as proved in studies done all across America. We definitely have enough empty houses to go around in this country.
Admittedly, there are some fairly innovative prevention programmes in place, one of which was announced as recently as October, and which focuses on prevention. Unfortunately though, despite how positive and potentially productive this sounds, targeted prevention programmes do very little when the structure of our society as a whole works so effectively against the impoverished, addicted, and mentally ill people who are most likely to end up sleeping rough. Plus, we are living in a time of budget cuts, and it is, of course, services for the homeless which are preparing to take the brunt of these in many areas.
Clearly, the government are being economically short sighted, but for what purpose? To perpetuate a mindless hierarchy? To avoid an arduous but definitely effective economic overhaul? Or maybe it’s just from a complete lack of desire to treat the homeless as human beings, who are at the very least deserving of the basic means of a comfortable survival.
I can’t pretend to be sure of the reason, but I do know this: homeless people deserve far more compassion. If that isn’t going to come from the government, then we as a society need to develop some empathy, and stop treating homeless people as a nuisance at best, and at worst, subhuman.
Aiden Alexander Wynn
(Image courtesy of YouTube)