I thought I knew what to expect from this documentary. I was prepared to be horrified at the conditions on those living on the streets, and to experience subsequent feelings of sympathy and guilt. Hidden and Homeless sparked all of these emotions and more.
Not only did it focus on the harsh reality of homelessness, it also drew attention to a group of people who experience homelessness but are not included within the official definition. For example, Professor Green meets Jerome, who is ‘everything that people would assume homeless isn’t’ – and he couldn’t be more right. Jerome has a full time job, and with his nice clothes and well kept appearance is far removed from any preconceived idea of a homeless person. In reality, Jerome is forced to sofa surf to avoid ending up on the streets – with two young children to support, his salary does not allow him to afford accommodation in London. The instability of this lifestyle is what hits hardest, making it difficult for Jerome to maintain a job. Jerome’s comment that ‘homelessness has many faces’ could not be more adept at explaining his situation and the situation of many others.
The documentary reveals the broad range of people affected by homelessness. Professor Green visits single mum Lauren, who after being made redundant and evicted from her home in Essex, has had to move to Islington with her young daughter to live in her friend’s spare room. Their current living situation means she cannot provide a stable home for her daughter – her sense of helplessness hammers home the fact that there is not enough help for people in her position. The fact that she has ended up in this situation through no fault of her own makes clear the universality of homelessness, which can affect anyone from any walk of life.
Professor Green does a great job presenting. He is sensitive to the different situations of the people he talks to, and puts people at ease. He is particularly sensitive with Luke, a homeless man from Manchester, whose story reveals how difficult it is to break out of the endless cycle. Although Luke is given an initial six month placement in a hostel to get him off the streets, it is clear the psychological impact of homelessness has not been addressed. The hostels’ center manager agrees that support is not far reaching enough, as she has seen people returning to the hostel many times over. Deep rooted issues are not being solved by simply putting a roof over people’s heads – support ‘only touches the surface’ as people cannot simply switch back to normal life after life on the street.
This documentary’s strength is that it does not undermine the problems of the visible homeless. Instead it draws attention to the problem with the official definition of homelessness, which is far too narrow for the large number who do not have a home of their own. Both the visible and the invisible homeless suffer as a result of the narrowness of this definition, and the lack of a suitable infrastructure of care to deal with this problem. The programme communicated a powerful message – as a society, we need to reassess our perception of homelessness as something that can happen to anyone, and therefore extend care to a wider number of people.
Image courtesy of italktelly.com.