"Beggars can't be choosers!"
Updated: Jul 31
Attitudes around 'choice' need changing. People with lived experience of disadvantage tell you why and how.
We all have fundamental needs.
Shelter, food and safety.
Positive connections and relationships.
Recognition. Self-esteem. Aspirations.
But when people experience homeless, these needs are often not met. Accommodation that is offered is not safe and secure. The shelter that is available separates people from their children, their families, their relationships. The support that is provided emphasises negative labels. Choices about our lives are made for us.
Would you be happy to be told that the only offer of accommodation means you must break all your ties with family, friends and support networks?
Would you be happy to be told that the main decisions made about your life would be made for you?
For many, this is the offer of support that is given. Accommodation that is three hundred miles away from where you are.
You can take this offer, or you are deemed to choose to live on the streets.
And this despite the work of the last few months clearly showing that no-body chooses to to live on the streets.
Our National Advisory Panel of people with lived experience of disadvantage still hear arguments that people should be grateful for what they get, from the public and regretfully those working to support people experiencing homelessness.
“Should people go to buildings where there are holes in the roof and the rain comes in? Should people with kids be bringing up kids in environments that are dirty and unsafe, and unhygienic?” Member of our National Advisory Panel
We are passionate that these attitudes should change, that people should be given choices over their home, that people should not be told 'they should be happy with what they get.'
So why do we feel choice over our homes is so important?
A home can be crucial for recovery
We often hear that people 'should not be given anything if they're spending money on booze and drugs.'
But for many people, home is crucial for well-being. It can provide the necessary base for recovery, and making positive changes to our mental health.
“A home is a place of healing. If you’ve got substance misuse issues, or alcoholism, the chances of having that addressed and getting your life in order on the whole is vastly improved by having a base, a home that you are happy and comfortable at.” Member of our National Advisory Panel
“One of the main causes of depression is a person’s environment. So if you’re not happy where you wake up, if you’re in a shit-hole, that’s how you’re going to feel as soon as you get up.” Member of our National Advisory Panel
“If an individual chooses that they want support with substance misuse issues, how do you expect that to take place in dire accommodation or on the streets?” Member of our National Advisory Panel
What some people are 'offered' is not an offer
But surely people are offered a home?
Regretfully, this is not true. The quality of some housing can be extremely poor, and in locations that mean that connections with family and friends are broken.
There is no safety. There is no security.
"People have assumptions that when you’re homeless you get a flat, and it’s a nice flat that is carpeted and clean, and has furniture. That’s the impression that many people get." Member of our National Advisory Panel
"Would you accept a flat that has concrete floors with holes under the door. Would you accept a flat with holes in the walls? That’s what people are being offered." Member of our National Advisory Panel
"There was literally a 6-inch hole underneath the door where the rats had been coming in and out. The Housing Officer turned to me and said ‘Well, you know, it’s not too bad. If she puts a carpet down she’ll be alright. She should be happy with it, she’s got nowhere at the moment!” Member of our National Advisory Panel
“I go to flats and there’s holes in the floor. How do you expect anybody to move on with their life?” Member of our National Advisory Panel
We are all people with needs and aspirations
Sometimes to legitimise poor treatment, people are other-ed and dehumanised. People are labelled as 'homeless people,' are stigmatised and treated as un-deserving.
We must challenge this idea that there is a group of 'homeless people.' 'The homeless.'
We are all people. And people can experience homelessness.
And when people experience homelessness, they should not waive their rights to choices over their lives. We should not waive our rights to have hopes and aspirations.
"What you’re basically saying is that certain people should just accept what shit they’re offered, even if its really crap, just because of a certain thing that’s happened to them - that they’re homeless.” Member of our National Advisory Panel
“It’s like a controlling relationship, where one person in the relationship is deciding where they ate, drank, when they went out, what they wear. Is that acceptable?” Member of our National Advisory Panel
We must make sure that when people experience homelessness we are given realistic, suitable choices, not single offers or housing with unnecessary conditions.
As a society, and as people working across the sector, we must call out the offers that are made to some and promote a better understanding of what the lack of choice really means for well-being and our aspirations.
“If you give someone a crap building you don’t end homelessness.” Member of our National Advisory Panel
A failure to do this means we will have no chance of ending rough sleeping. But if we make genuine choices available, and if we empower people with understanding, then we all can thrive.
Includes Conversations on Co-production, our free What is Co-production? webinar and three part online training event Co-production: the essential nuts and bolts.
Find out what's available and join us: https://www.expertlink.org.uk/training-and-events
'Giving people a choice' is one of the key principles we believe must be followed to end rough sleeping. Information on our full set of principles, our call to action, and the wider work of the National Advisory Panel can be found here.
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