Homelessness can never be solved until the public’s perception of the issues surrounding homelessness is directly challenged.
Charities need to be able to work in partnership with statutory organisations in advocating on behalf of those who are marginalised and have no voice in society. However, in order to achieve this, the smaller local projects which receive little or no statutory funding, are entirely reliant on the financial generosity, and the support, of their local communities.
Community engagement is harder in rural areas where homelessness is far more hidden than in the bigger cities. The public are not confronted with the stereotypical image of rough sleepers bedding down and therefore will be ignorant of there being a problem in the first place.
Additionally, the general public does not deem this topic to be an attractive one. The complex needs surrounding homelessness are still society’s greatest taboos; it is not considered good practice to talk about substance dependencies or mental health problems. People don’t want to hear that homelessness could happen to anyone; they don’t want to have to consider what might happen to them if they suddenly found themselves at risk of losing their home. It’s far to easy to remain in a small, safe and secure bubble rather than have to consider the darker aspects of the real world on their doorstep.
However, by educating our local communities we can reduce the fear and prejudice, the hostility and aggression against the homeless and the marginalised. But most importantly, we can challenge and overturn the public’s perception, thereby recruiting them in the fight to end homelessness.
Lisa Lewis, Chief Executive, Doorway Wiltshire Ltd
This article was first published in Homeless Link‘s CONNECT Magazine Issue 46, July 2012 as part of their “21 Visions 1 Debate” article on ending homelessness.