Homelessness is such an everyday injustice that it becomes normalised, figuring as a morality tale of mistakes made and consequences for the workshy or deviant. A dismal reality that is easily disregarded through a quick averting of gaze or a half-hearted fumbling through your pockets only to reply, "Sorry, mate". However, in reality for most of us, homelessness is too close for comfort, as it is potentially only a few bills and months away, or as Amelia’s story shows is often connected to the chances of our own personal throw of the dice and being incapacitated by mental ill-health.
Rough sleeping has been on the rise in recent years; stats published this week by the Office of National Statistics revealed that rough sleeping for a single night in England increased 168.7% from 2010 to a height in 2017, only to decrease slightly in 2018 and 2019 and then to dramatically decrease in 2020 by 43.4% from the 2017 peak.
The 2020 estimate suggests that the government's £3.2m ‘Everyone In’ initiative response to the pandemic was a success. However momentary, it was a reprieve from living on the streets or in insecure temporary accommodation.
Responding to the ONS figures, Nat Travis, national head of substance misuse at Turning Point, commented: "In a civilised society, nobody should need to sleep on the streets. The increase in numbers of the past ten years is a poor reflection on our society. The 'Everyone In' initiative is a real success story which is reflected in the numbers going down over the last year; however, there is still much more to be done."
“We must look past the numbers and recognise that there are thousands of real people, some of them teenagers who are sleeping without a warm bed tonight. More must be done to tackle the root causes of homelessness – precarious housing and employment, debt, family breakdown and drug and alcohol and mental health problems”, he added.
Amelia’s story of mental health, homelessness, and securing a future
In a self-feeding cycle, people experiencing mental health problems are more susceptible to becoming homeless, and the stresses of becoming homeless are more likely to amplify poor mental health. This was represented by a 2014 study, which found that 80% of homeless people in England reported that they had mental health issues and 45% that they had been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
According to the most recent ONS data, the vast majority of people rough sleeping in England and Scotland (80%) are males, with an overall ratio of six men to one woman. Although, as campaigners told Mental Health Today in March, this does not reveal the complete picture of homelessness, as while women are largely absent from the more visible injustices of living on the street, women are more likely to be ‘invisibly homeless’, and rely on means such as sofa surfing.
One such woman Amelia Davidson, 28, spoke with Mental Health Today about her experience of facing homelessness, mental health, and navigating the housing system.
Amelia said that her life changed “dramatically” after losing both her parents; the bereavement of losing two figures of stability in her life triggered feelings of anxiety and depression, for which she seeks regular counselling to cope with her pain, suffering, and loss.
“I miss their company and the fact that they were always there for me whatever went wrong. Now I feel very lonely and on my own.”
After renewed struggles with her mental health, Amelia commented that she felt as if she had been “thrown into the deep end”, and the thought of maintaining a 9-5 job in a pressured environment felt too much while coping with substantial levels of grief, anxiety, and depression.
Falling through the cracks, Amelia had to navigate finding a place after losing her home. She said that from her experience, “the housing system is not always as helpful as it could be… There is a set of criteria to try to help the highest priority first, but everyone’s story is unique and does not always fit into the criteria you have set out. The human aspect is missing from the system, a sympathetic ear has been replaced by a series of tick boxes, and if you do not tick the right ones, you get left behind. That needs to change.”
“This put me at the bottom of the list for housing and meant that I was only allowed to bid for 1-bedroom houses, but as most of those did not allow pets, and I refused to give up my dog, I was not eligible to bid for them. Being such a low priority anyway, I would not have been successful even if I had been eligible.”
She said that she had to rely on friends and family to help her stay off the streets, falling into the category of the many women who are hidden homeless. But once finding a home, Amelia is now again facing homelessness after recently receiving an eviction notice on her flat.
"I have been through so much heartache and trauma; all I want is to live a simple life doing the things that make me happy. I have learnt the hard way that you never know what is around the corner and that you need to go out and live your dreams, as you only get one chance."
- See also: 'Prisons are leaving women destitute and homeless, say campaigners'
- See also: 'Thousands are beings sent to prison when they need psychiatric care'
Ambitions for the future
Not lacking in the aspiration and determination to carve out a space for herself and make a difference in the lives of other women facing homelessness, Amelia wants to raise money to secure her future and find a place to call home that cannot be taken away from her.
“I have spent most of my life holding back from doing the things that make me happy due to living through these tough times and through fear of the unknown. Because of this, I am living in a pit of depression and anxiety, desperately clinging on to the hope that things will one day change.”
Hoping to turn several difficult years around by providing some stability, she intends to buy a plot of land where she would build a shepherd’s hut for her and her dog, and then six additional huts to offer temporary accommodation for women, youth and those with pets facing homelessness.
Amelia said that she envisions it as a place that would create a community for those who have been struggling with homelessness to reconnect with the world and get back into a routine, which would enable them to transition into more stable housing placements and avoid falling back into the cycle of homelessness.
“My message to women who are experiencing similar circumstances would be to not be afraid to reach out for help. There are times when you feel alone and like the world is against you, and all you want to do is give up, but there is always someone out there who is willing to help. You just have to ask for it.”
If you want to contribute to Amelia's Go Fund Me, click here.
The housing and homelessness charity Shelter believes everyone should have a home. For advice and support you can chat to an expert housing adviser online, find local services through their website, or call their urgent helpline.