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On Friday 8th March 2019, Croydon High held its annual NCYW conference which aimed to ‘inform and educate us about many complicated issues related to the subject [of homelessness] and the challenges this generation specifically faces as the crisis deepens’. We heard from seven key speakers from a variety of backgrounds: some refugees themselves, some who had experienced homelessness and some on the other side, working as councillors to help eradicate this problem in the future or with charities seeking to help right now.
The problem of homelessness is specifically dire in Croydon, and a staggering 1 in 54 people are now homeless in London. Many of us experience the feeling of shame every time we pass by someone on the side of the street, bundled in their sleeping bag and perhaps we feel that it is better not to think about them because after all, how can one individual and some loose change, change the life of someone on the street? We can’t. Not individually anyway. Councillor Julia Pitt repeatedly said: ‘the only way to end it [homelessness] is together’ and arguably this was the main point made by many of the other speakers.
Of course, we cannot expect that our three pounds change will help someone completely transform their lives – but surely it is a start? Another concept continually mentioned throughout the conference was the harsh truth that anyone can become homeless. Caroline Hillam from the charity ‘Glassdoor’, spoke movingly of a woman named Annabel, who suffered from severe post-natal depression which caused her life to spiral out of control and resulted in her losing her job and home.
So why is it that most people avoid eye contact with the homeless? There is a damaging stigma around the homeless that somehow, perhaps, they deserve the position they find themselves in or that they are dangerous, people to be avoided. The truth is that people like Annabel could never anticipate or control the fact that the she might develop post-natal depression nor the problems it led to. More than that, where is our humanity? If any of us saw a person lying in the street, injured, surely we would offer our support even if that was just calling an ambulance and staying with them until they arrived. No one is expecting the average individual to perform surgery and prescribe medication on the side of the street. Really, the same should apply to homelessness. We must stop ignoring it as a problem that ‘doesn’t concern us’ simply because it is not easy to solve. It is the small actions that have the most effect.
There are so many helplines that the average passer-by can call to request help for a homeless person, but even just a smile, an acknowledgment of existence, is enough to spark some hope for that person, showing them that someone does believe in them. I am a true believer that if you do nothing to help solve the problem that you are part of the problem.
So, I say to you, be a part of the change – do not ignore the homeless, offer even the smallest bit of help you can. It is time to stop ignoring the problem, it is time to start humanising homelessness.
Milla, Lower Sixth.