I became interested in homelessness from around 1998 because in the UK there had been a visible rise in street begging and crime associated with drug use and rough sleeping amongst young people and I wanted to understand why this was happening in a wealthy state. The idea of not having somewhere to live is frightening, but homelessness is an experience, not a definition of a particular person. We are taught to despise failure and blame those poorer than us, even if we are poor ourselves: to paraphrase a famous line of dialogue from the film Mississippi Burning, ‘If you ain’t better than a homeless person, son, who are you better than?’ In countries without a social safety net, some of them in the developed world, like Japan, it is easy even for an ordinary working person to become homeless – ill health, family breakdown or a plain old recession will do it, and homelessness is likely to mean rough sleeping outside. In countries like the UK, which has good (though diminishing) provision of welfare and emergency accommodation, there has been an association with longer term homelessness and rough sleeping with multiple complex issues including addiction and mental health. Those with sufficient practical and emotional resources are more likely to be in some form of accommodation like a bed and breakfast, a hostel or temporary flat, but we still use the term homeless as they are not securely housed.
Meeting some people experiencing homelessness