Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Joe and the word "homeless" (part1)

                           Manchester citizens, Piccadilly approach 2015

The arthur+martha project The Homeless Library is the first ever attempt to write a history of homelessness in Britain. It includes not only individual testimonies, but also poetry and art, giving it a shape like no other

As well as interviewing the many homeless people who have been kind enough to talk to us, we have spoken to staff in organisations that work with homeless people. Here, advice worker Joe Barson from The Booth Centre tries to define the word "homelessness". It's a definition that is crucial right now in Manchester since the recent homeless protests. If that H-word is applied to you, it might get you fined or imprisoned...

My parents pushed education on me; I went to Uni and did history. I left wanting to use the skills in a more constructive way than just being an academic, I wanted to work supporting people. I enjoyed academia, but it's so airy-fairy and I wanted to get my hands on something. I went into mental health work and then on to a hostel in Stockport which gave me the opportunity to do homeless advice.

I've always been aware that we live in and an unequal society where your place at birth determines your life. That made me want to do something about the unfair suffering a lot of people have to endure. My father's family are working class and work hard and didn't get much. I was exposed to more middle-class education and I've been aware of a stark difference for me. My dad was in the police force and was aware of injustice and so was my grandpa...

The way I see myself as an advice worker in the homeless community is that I am able to do stuff and think in a way that is useful to people, because of the education I've been lucky enough to receive. It's a question for me. I have a comfortable wage and a house and yet I'm advising people who have nothing. Would I act differently in their position, would they act differently in mine?

I was talking to my partner - we were asking can you define homelessness? Are they a unified group or a mass with diverse origins and groupings? The label homeless comes from categorising people economically, seeing them as a cohesion but they're not really. Have we created an underclass from these individuals, a disenfranchised mass? I like that term, you can write that one down!

There's different ways people come to be called homeless. A claim on the label homeless is that these are a group of people without houses, but even the way they experience not having a house is different for each and every one. Someone new to it is going to experience homelessness differently to someone who has been living on the streets for 20 years.

You can then subdivide those categories down into two groups if you like. Some people lose their homes because of circumstances and some because there's no one willing to accommodate them. Seriously mentally ill people, drug users, people with chaotic lives. But homelessness has not always existed in this way. There's always people who don't reach society's norm. In different times they've been called different things.

(Second half of this interview to follow shortly)

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