In 2007 I came close to homelessness. I had lived in a caravan on the marshes for years while working for the RSPB but was then evicted when the council was made aware that I lived in the caravan full time and therefore was breaking planning regulations. My home was towed away in front of me and my relationship with the man I was planning to marry broke down. I was taken in by my colleagues and lived in a room full of spiders with my life packed up in cardboard boxes all around me.
I was lucky, I found somewhere to rest my head while I recovered from the blow of calling off my wedding and got my life back on track. Many are not so lucky. I know how easy it is for your neatly planned life to fall apart.
Recently I began working at Medway Night Shelter, helping to run a voluntary service for the lucky few who we can provide a bed and food for. Out on the streets in the bitter cold many others struggle on. In the day time you see these people, the obviously homeless, sheltering from the winter winds in shop doorways, waiting out the day, being offered cups of tea and takeaways and clothes by concerned passers by.
Homelessness in the Medway towns is an increasingly obvious problem but this week I heard about the hidden homeless. I heard how at least two people I have met have no home or bed to go to. Instead they rent a desk at a shared office space and hide a sleeping bag under the desk until everyone else has left. They join a gym and use this to shower and change.
You would never know these people were homeless, it is doubtful they would classify themselves as such but are they a sign of the times? Both these people run their own business, they are smart and enterprising and sleek and partly I want to salute them. They cannot afford to start up their business’s and pay rent so they have found a way around all that. A clever solution that cheats the system.
Are they, however, just a symptom of our failure to provide affordable accommodation? I don’t mean in the way the government would have us believe is the only way to live, buy a house, get a mortgage, tie ourselves to debt for the rest of our natural born lives. I mean, couldn’t we provide affordable accommodation by capping rents, giving incentives for people to rent out rooms in their houses, providing shared accommodation for people starting up business’s? Couldn’t we open up some of those empty homes and pubs and shops, let enterprising people renovate them and make them liveable once again? Couldn’t we make it legal for someone to live in a caravan full time, if that’s what they choose?
Instead we have a government dedicated to building houses that many people will never be able to afford and don’t want to be saddled with the long term debt of and turn a blind eye to the homeless who are right under our noses.