I want to write about homelessness and I’m not sure how to frame it, with this being a literary blog. I haven’t read many books on the subject; George Orwell lived as a tramp and wrote about his experiences in Down and Out in Paris and London, which I read as a teenager and remains one of my favourite books.
Homelessness also features in Orwell’s less well known novel, A Clergyman’s Daughter. This is a flawed novel, but I would still very much recommend it. Apparently, it was very heavily edited in line with contemporary ideas of ‘decency’, to omit a vital scene in which the main protagonist, Dorothy, is raped. Without this scene, Dorothy’s subsequent bout of amnesia doesn’t make a lot of sense. Her trauma leads to a spell living rough in London and Kent and I believe that this missing event is a vital part of the story.
Trauma was also the contributing factor to Stuart’s addictions, violence and homelessness in Stuart: A Life Backwards, by Alexander Masters. This is a true story and as I’ve said before on this blog, one I found very moving.
This post was prompted by watching two programmes on the BBC iPlayer yesterday, one about addiction to the legal high, Mamba, in Wolverhampton and the other presented by Professor Green, called Hidden and Homeless. The former would probably confirm most people’s prejudices about homeless people, as it followed rough-sleeper Liam’s battle with drug addiction, but the Professor Green documentary highlighted many interesting points about how, what I think of as a ‘homeless psychological state’, is created. It also raised many issues about how the current government, in its refusal to provide cheap social housing, is creating many more individuals and families with no permanent place to live.
Not all homeless people are sleeping rough, but these are the only ones who are counted in official statistics. In fact, according to Hidden and Homeless, someone who is sitting up in a sleeping bag on the streets, wouldn’t be a statistic, as they only count you if you’re lying down.
Homeless can be if you’re ‘sofa surfing’, living in B&Bs, hostels, etc. I would also extend that to people who have no home and relying on friends or family to put them up in a spare room, as one woman and her daughter were forced to do in this programme. By this definition, I have been homeless twice in my life. I was working but had nowhere to live and slept on friends’ futons, or in family member’s spare rooms. I have a friend who has similarly been homeless when she had to leave an abusive relationship and I have a friend who slept in his car for a while and then lived in hostels.
Homelessness could happen to anyone, but it is more likely to happen if you suddenly lose your support network, or had none to begin with. It is more likely to happen now, because we live in a more economically precarious society, where the gap between rich and poor is becoming a huge gulf. This problem is hidden, but escalating.
If anyone has any book recommendations on this subject, then I’d be happy to hear them, as it’s a topic very close to my heart.
No Fixed Abode is on my TBR list, which follows Charlie Carroll’s real life rough sleeper’s journey from Cornwall to London. I’ll review it soon.
[Postscript: I’ve read the first couple of chapters of Charlie Carroll’s book. He decides to ‘live as a tramp’ but sews 100 quid in cash into the lining of his jacket. Which is exactly the kind of safety net a real homeless person does not have! A bit angry already!].