The aim of this project is to encourage people to stop and speak to somebody that is sitting on the street or selling the Big Issue. If you do not have the time, then make eye contact as you walk past and wish them a good day. People are only invisible if we ignore them.
My motivation for this project developed from seeing a poster on several shop walls, which had been produced by a local council and several homeless charities. It stated that there was enough support by the council, soup kitchens and charities in the town, so could we stop giving to people on the streets, and donate to the charities instead. It also stated that by giving money we are deterring people from seeking help.
I am not saying that we should give money, but I found the poster to be a somewhat callous and cold-hearted approach to take. There are some wonderful homeless charities in the UK and I am in favour of the great work that they do. However, the posters raised questions for me. If you are homeless, what is it like to have people walk past you and ignore you? If the council and charities are winning the battle against homelessness then why are people on the streets? Why does the government rely on charities to try to improve the circumstances for homeless people and not do more? The posters, which are effectively asking the public to ignore the plight of people living on the streets, are encouraging us to further invalidate those individuals. The majority of the people who are on the streets ARE linked into their local council and charities, and these are failing individuals and to relieve homelessness.
The government piloted “No Second Night Out” in London during April 2011. Its stated aim is that they are ”Committed to ensuring that no individual arriving on the streets will sleep out for a second night.” and to “end rough sleeping in London”. The pilot has now been implemented nationwide. Although NSNO reports that is a success, the research from Crisis tells a different story “Government street counts and estimates give a snapshot of the national situation. The latest figures showed that 4,134 people slept rough across England on any given night in 2016 – a 16% increase compared to the previous year, and more than double the amount in 2010.” (Quote) With homelessness having doubled since 2010 we can see clearly that NSNO is not working.
Most homeless people have suffered trauma, a dysfunctional upbringing/home-life or have suffered from other forms of social exclusion. To be homeless is to be vulnerable, to be at risk of violence, to have restricted access to health care and to have less opportunity for well-being and employment. In December 2016, The Guardian newspaper reported: “of people who had slept rough in the past 12 months, 55.5% had experienced being verbally abused or harassed – 15 times higher than the general population.” (Quote).
When you meet someone on the street stop and have a chat. Acknowledgement and being valued as a member of society are basic human needs. It is also good to check whether people are accessing local support and if they are not then you can seek details of support services and provide them to the individual. You can contact Street Link if you know someone sleeping rough, and they will then look out for them, and link them in with local support. All councils have a Housing Options team, which provides guidance and support for homeless people. Most homeless people are aware of, and accessing local services, but it is useful information to have and to pass on if required.
If you would like to know more about homelessness or make a donation to the national charity for homeless people then please contact Crisis. Homelessness:-
There are many charities that support rough sleepers and vulnerably housed people and there are links to them below the photos.
L – July 2017
L does not like to sit with his hat in front of him, but circumstances have left him quite desperate. He prefers to sit without begging and allow the power of suggestion to present a question to passers by. When you see someone who needs help do you stop or do you pass them by?
J – May 2017
J is a combat veteran. Next time you see someone sitting on the street, stop and say hello. You may realise you have more in common than you think.
M – May 2017
Warm, friendly and despite his circumstance he remains hopeful and Jolly.
DB – May 2017
DB is intelligent, kind and funny. He is also ex-armed forces and says “Homelessness can happen to anyone”.
KJ and R – April 2017
KJ and R, are vulnerably housed. They both have physical and mental health issues. They find that friendship helps them cope with very challenging circumstances.
J and V – April 2017
J has been homeless for many years of his life. His only wish is that Nations and individuals work together to make the planet a better place.
MB – March 2017
MB was kind enough to allow me to take his photo. I have pixelated part of the image at his request.
R and E – March 2017
R and E both have serious health conditions to cope with, which are exacerbated by sitting on the streets.
R – March 2017
R is being informed he is not allowed to beg, and that if he does not move on then the police will be called to remove him. R praised some of the local police who have gone out of their way to help him, buy him a sandwich and have a chat with him.
M – March 2017
M has been told he cannot have his dog Rocky with him in temporary homeless accommodation. Rocky was R’s companion before he became homeless and has helped him to cope with his physical and mental health.
People are only invisible if we choose to ignore them is an ongoing project by Richard Keys – www.photosociology.info
References and Support Services
I would like to express my gratitude to Shaneka and The Soiological Mail for publishing this essay.