Streets of London

Someone’s life can take a sudden turn, an abrupt change in someone’s life can have a devastating impact on their future. When a life event overtakes and gets out of control and forces someone to lose their home and pushes them into homelessness, it puts them on a dangerous and very lonely path.

It is estimated that about 2% of the world’s population is homeless. This corresponds to nearly 154 million people living in the streets around the world, temporary accommodations, refugee camps or other sites, often in very dangerous circumstances.

The legal definition of homelessness in the United Kingdom is that “a household has no home in the UK or anywhere else in the world available and reasonable to occupy,” (cited by Gov.uk). This includes rough sleeping, people living in garages, sheds, hostels, and sofa surfing. Everyone who has no fixed address is considered homeless.

According to Shelter, the National Campaign for Homeless People, someone is legally homeless when they have been evicted from their home, have been asked to leave by friends or family, must leave due to domestic abuse or violence, or cannot stay in their housing due to flood or fire, and are sleeping rough on the streets or live somewhere that is not reasonable for them to stay.

Rough sleeping is the most visible and dangerous of all types of homelessness. They are 17 times more exposed to violence and abuse. According to the homeless charity Crisis, the average age of death is 42 for women and 46 for men. They are nine times more likely to commit suicide. There are many different reasons forcing people into the devastation of homelessness. This includes social causes (unable to pay for housing), poverty, unemployment, or personal circumstances (such as poor mental or physical health problems, relationship breakups, losing a job), or the intake of substances such as drugs or alcohol abuse.

Some become homeless when they leave prison, care, or the army as they have nowhere to go to. Tragically, women become homeless after escaping a violent or abusive relationship.

Rough sleeping decreased in London. In autumn of 2021, there were an estimated 640 people sleeping rough on a single night in London, compared to 710 people during the same period in the previous year, (according to statistics from Gov.com). The capital is the most affected city in the United Kingdom.

Statistics show that overall homelessness has decreased over the past 6 years. While in 2018 there were approximately 4680 rough sleepers around England, in 2021 there were 2440.

This was also due to the government’s initiative to offer hotel accommodation during the pandemic.

However, there might be a further increase in homelessness in the United Kingdom by 2024. It has been predicted that due to the increase of energy cost, the overall rise of living costs and the end of the pandemic benefits, the number of homeless people could surge by one third.

Being a mother myself, I find it one of the saddest realities. Walking around the streets of London you come across so many homeless people. Some of them have been sleeping rough in the same areas for a prolonged period, some for years. Some are very young which makes my heart ache. Their eyes look tired and empty, with hopeless prospects, are surrounded by only a few blankets and keeping their entire life belongings wrapped up in only a few plastic bags. Their loneliness contrasts with the colorful life of others passing in front of them. Only a few people would notice their presence and they simply sit there day after day without much interaction and without love. What I believe is very touching is that homelessness could potentially affect all of us if we would find ourselves in a vulnerable circumstance. It is down to us, how we react, find a strategy to cope with certain situations with the resources we have…and how blessed we are to have the right people in our lives when we find ourselves in difficulties.

No one should face homelessness alone. There is help from the government available if someone is facing real difficulties.

I won’t forget, when as a little girl, my mother would sometimes sing as a lullaby the song “Streets of London” by Ralph McTell to me “…Have you seen the old girl, who walks the streets of London, Dirt in her hair, And her clothes in rage? She’s no time for talking, She just keeps right on walking, Carrying her home in two carrier bags…” Little I have known or understood the meaning behind those lyrics, how incredibly lucky I was, to grow up in a loving and safe home… - to have a home!