Every pro-homeless thing I post gets support from my friends, and I love you for it.
Even 10 year’s ago it would be almost unthinkable to post pro-homeless things with any real support, and mostly just abuse would result.
I still get the indifference, still the abuse. I still have people use my status as an ex-homeless person against me.
I still have people pretend that the moment my homelessness comes up in a discussion or debate automatically means my voice no longer counts.
And it still hurts every time.
But I always knew that was how the world worked. It’s what I grew up knowing, and so as frustrating as it is, it’s just something I know to expect.
What’s amazing is to see how that’s becoming less normal, or at least less accepted as normal. To see how I find myself surrounded by people throughout the world who reject anti-homeless prejudice as being “normal”, and who reject homelessness as “normal” as well as the narratives that perpetuate it.
It’s not an easy issue, because we live in a system that not only exacerbates it, but which normalises the victimisation of homeless people – and even worse, commodifies us in order to profit from our perpetual stigma.
But every time I tackle the deep and disturbing issues, I find people who feel the same about the injustice and about what it means to be human.
I can’t ever truly put into words what it means.
Does aggressive begging exist?
Is aggressive begging the problem of homelessness?
It’s a cause of a shit system that values property rights over those who should have right to shelter.
The person who you encounter who aggressively begs you isn’t the problem.
It’s the landlords who profit from keeping 200,000 long term empty properties, which could House even our hidden homeless 2-3 times over, in order to inflate the housing market who are the problem.
Aggressive begging exists.
It’s not the problem.
It’s a symptom of the problem.
Get your heads around that.
The numbers speak for themselves.
We can House everyone tonight.
We can then pay for their support tonight.
Aggressive beggars are a problem for our economic system.
They aren’t a problem to humanity.
The difference between transient people and middle-class dropouts who use the world as their emotional playground:
Wherever you go, don’t pretend it’s an escape.
The people in the place you move to live in a world with huge problems, wherever you choose.
So wherever you go to call home, you have to resolve to making it your home by living with the people who live there and taking on their issues as your own – not as a saviour figure from outside, but as someone who wants to be a part of the community you find yourself in.
That’s the transient way.
Wherever we go, we take part.
So, always choose your destination well.
Take into account what you can give and what will be needed from you, as much as what you need and what you think you can expect to be given.
What do you need and what can you give?
Those two questions will define the best places for you to go.
It’s not “escape”.
It’s going where’s best for everyone, including you.
Unless you are fleeing a war zone or an utterly collapsed economy (and I mean collapsed to the point that you live on the street), the idea of transience being a way to “escape” with little care about anything except yourself isn’t transience. It’s neo-colonialism.
You’re not a transient, you’re literally colonising.
You’re going somewhere to either set up an enclave or maintain an enclave.
There are MANY times where transient communities are fucked over by people around them and forced to create an enclave.
But those occasions don’t begin with people from relatively affluent backgrounds displacing the local populace.
If you’re doing that, you’re colonising, not being transient.
Transience isn’t about escape.
Transience is a way of life.
It’s a way of life which involves a set of difficult responsibilities which you have to acknowledge and live by.
It’s not to say that you have to live as second class citizens to every static community you encounter.
It’s that you can’t pretend you’re superior to them.
It’s to acknowledge that, when movement is a choice rather than a response to immediate threat, we have an extra impetus to our responsibility to the community we engage with, driven by the lack of mitigating factors that can remove us from the responsibility of our actions as reasonable people.
Especially when we come from a more affluent background.
Caveat: if you’re so economically destitute as to be literally street homeless in a new country, or have been made homeless in your own country….
Well, there’s no caveat. You know this already. You’ve known poverty at its extreme, and you don’t need me to remind you of what it takes to survive it.
Looking at media, there are some troubling tropes around the portrayal of homeless people.
Tv tropes itself doesn’t tend to deal with the more negative tropes involving homeless people, and definitely doesn’t recognise these harmful tropes, so I thought I’d share them and talk about them:
The useful Tramp – the homeless person, or persons, who have no character (beyond possibly the most lazy stereotypes), who are utilised by the main characters in order to procure information or items of plot value.
Some narratives patronisingly attempt to pretend they are venerating the homeless community by suggesting they are “useful”, but still deny them any identity or agency of their own.
See “Sherlock” (tv series) and his use of a faceless and nameless network of homeless people for information, where he’s meant to be portrayed as benevolent for using them, and they are meant to be venerated above their social stigma by being useful to him – but not venerated enough to be given any character, and not allowed for their character alone, outside of their usefulness, to be enough to venerate them.
Deus ex vagrant – the homeless person who saves the day at the last minute, redeeming their original sin of being homeless in the first place.
Usually, they have no backstory and little mention is made of their character outside their involvement in saving the day.
The unrecognised victim – the homeless person, typically drunk, who’s first to witness the evil presence which ultimately kills them.
Their purpose in the story is solely to introduce the evil presence, by sacrificing a character that is given no background or sympathetic qualities and who can be easily forgotten by both the characters and the audience.
The jolly tramp – the homeless person whose sole purpose is to demonstrate the humanity of the main character. “Their so great, they even talk to and laugh with homeless people.”
Little, if any, backstory is given to them, and they are unanimously denied the privilege of a story arc of any kind (unlike even minor characters).
The derelict in distress/“aw, don’t be mean to them” – the homeless person whose sole purpose is to be a pitiful victim in order to highlight the bravery and/or compassion of the hero.
The destitute mystic – the homeless person who has magical powers, who’s only contribution to the plot is to grant wishes to compassionate main characters, or to give plot points as wisdom or magical items to main characters.
The tragicomic relief – their function is normally to appear drunk, spot a moment which should break suspension of disbelief (such as a magical occurrence), and do a double take before either running away or putting the experience down to their inebriation.
“Oh my god! I’m finally Rich!” – the homeless person who, often towards the end of a film, finids or is given a valuable item or pile of money, and quickly leaps up in delight exclaiming how their life is going to turn around.
They are almost never seen in the story before this point.
Another version of this trope involves homeless characters having no understanding of basic concepts, such as the value of money (“if I had a thousand dollars, why, I’d by a castle!”)
Generations to come will not know homelessness.
They will look back and read homeless stories like we read Dickens novels talking about children sweeping chimneys.
This is my dream.
“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.”
Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism.
As I live and shall die, always this.
If I work 40 hours a week and spend my wages buying 4 beers a day (even adding a Weekend’s worth of drinking in between), with a high enough paid job to not go bankrupt, nobody blinks an eye.
If, however, I work 40 hours or more a week and spend my wages buying just 4 beers a day, without a high enough paid job, and I go bankrupt, it’s my fault.
Addiction isn’t just excusable and sustainable if you’re rich. It’s actually celebrated.
If you’re poor, then even lower levels of addiction are enough to condemn you.
Why is that?
(Hint: it’s because we’re conditioned to hate poor people and blame them for their poverty, whilst ignoring the economic system that both makes them poor and happily punished them for the same behaviour we absolve rich people from displaying.)
There’s a contentious argument that has existed for centuries over whether it is morally correct to give money to homeless people.
I’m not going to get into that argument here. I will do do elsewhere, but it’s not relevant for me to do so right now.
Many of those who state that they won’t give money to the homeless say that they will give food to them. Again, I’m not going to go into the ethical conundrum that this can entail, I’ll deal with that elsewhere.
The main thing here is that, if you want to help someone in need, and you feel the best way of doing that is by providing them with the things they need right at that moment as you see it, rather than the ability to get those things – because you fear that they may “squander” that money instead of looking after themselves – hats off to you.
I don’t fully agree, but you do care and you are giving directly (and I hope ethically, taking their dietary needs and limitations into account) to someone you see in a desperate situation.
So let’s talk about Nottingham
According to the city of Nottingham’s new “Public Spaces Protection Order” (PSPO), it will not only be an offence to obstruct a doorway (homeless people often need to sleep in doorways to protect themselves from the weather), but even to give food to homeless people.
That’s right. You won’t be able to even give food to homeless people.
So I’m intrigued as to how those who want to just give food feel about this. Because now a city in the uk is seeking to make it an offence – by which you will be punished – for giving to someone in need, even in ways that you feel are morally fine and necessary.
This doesn’t just affect the public individual donating a kebab after being kicked out of a pub. It affects outreach teams, who take it upon themselves to ensure the homeless population are well fed and well clothed throughout even the worst months of the year.
This order will criminalise grass roots networks who do nothing more than provide warm clothing and food to people who are denied the ability to procure those things. At a time when services open to homeless people are in decline (from housing to welfare to mental health).
How does it feel to know that if you try to help someone not die, you will face a criminal sentence?
In reality, this is just what councils have been doing across the country – criminalising homeless people, and attempting to brush them under the carpet in a manner close to genocide by negligence, to “sanitise” the economic heartlands they perceive as being inconvenienced by the existence of poor people.
So even if you only want to give food to homeless people, surely you see this as an attack on both yourself and the homeless?
In reality, it’s just the latest progression in attacks against homeless people, that has continually attempted to de-humanise us. That’s obvious to most ex-homeless people, who are still stigmatised by society for their homelessness, even after the fact.
Since not only is the right of homeless people to ask for or accept food being taken away, but also your right to give food to someone you see as being in desperate need, will you finally agree that we live in a country that hates homeless people and is willing to pass anti-homeless laws that will have a catastrophic impact on our homeless population?
You all realise that you can fuck the homeless over as much as you want, but you’re fighting a people who have no fixed address and can appear out of nowhere, and who have nothing left to lose, right
I mean, I’m no military expert, but that has historically been the shittest idea ever.
Being a transient person means that I reject and am unable to live under a static frame of reference.
However, neither am I able to live under a semi-transient frame that is forced upon me.
Whilst my transient nature allows me to adapt to new living conditions and locations, even when those conditions are semi-static (ie, living in a house for 6 months, where my existence is tied to remaining there because I have little autonomy to find or sustain my own transient existence), I can no more than subsist and survive there – never feeling truly transient (because I can’t move on under my own steam or security) and never feeling at home (either through my lack of ownership over my personal space being made explicit, or through social pressures continuing to remind me that I have no ownership of my personal space – usually because I often have no legal safeguards when entering temporary accommodation at urgent short notice. When it’s going back to the street or taking a short term residence with no contract, it’s not even a choice – but it’s one that reminds me that society feels comfortable to neglect any ownership I should have over my personal space, which itself feeds into a spiralling ennui and psychological inability to see a light at the end of the tunnel. And static life is a long and dark tunnel for me.)
I’m placed in a horrific state of limbo, where my transient lifestyle is both rejected and used against me, by the social structures and institutions, even if not always by the persons involved.
Transient people are forced to merely subsist and survive, when our transient status is used against us to enforce our imprisonment in a life that subjects us to temporary static accommodations within which we have no spatial autonomy.
In order to thrive, we require as a necessity our transient lives to be dictated on our own terms.
We require the ability to take ownership of our spaces – including a space we can take with us to new locations.
But we are most often denied both by the political and economic systems, and social structures, we find ourselves in – constantly being denied space we are legally recognised as having ownership of, and constantly being forced into spaces that entrap us and within which our spatial autonomy is not protected.
Temporary insecure accommodation without spatial autonomy being guaranteed, is the reality of many transient people today. But it isn’t what actually defines transient people or our lifestyle.
Our lifestyle is defined by the spatial autonomy we can guarantee for ourselves as we move – a spatial autonomy that is rejected by the system in which we live, which perceives us as an existential threat at worst, and a minor quirk of economics at best (an acceptable sub-market with rules and restrictions imposed upon us as a community, that encroach upon our ability to exist, but which we’re allowed to live within so long as we don’t disrupt the system with our transient autonomy).
That’s why you have the problem of disillusioned and apathetic “economically successful” transient people rejecting or refusing to recognise the plight of their community – even rejecting or failing to recognise their community’s existence and their existence as part of that community.
An “I’m alright Jack” attitude, which only serves to curtail and destroy the community, instead of form a cohesive political, social and economic force willing to fight for the rights and needs of all its members.
It’s an attitude that is at odds with the traveler movements of the 80s and 90s, during Nostell Priory, the battle of the beanfield and the passing of the CJA. But all those events led to the ability of this attitude to exist and persist, eroding the community – until today we find almost no real traveler community outside that which is defined ethnically, at least in terms of a social movement happy to fight for the struggles of its membership.
None of this should or could ever diminish the plight of – and very real and very specific injustices – experienced by the Roma community, or any other ethnically defined transient group in the UK or beyond.
And neither would I define my transient status as someone who shares the injustices felt by the Roma community, or count myself among their community except as a brethren of a larger transient community – which defines itself both with broader ethnic identities (from the Roma to the Bedouin to the Masai and beyond) and without ethnic identities (in terms of all those of us without traditional ties who yet reject a static frame of reference).
I would do a disservice to all if I equated the two, but also if I denied our greater community, and how any attack against one part of our wider community affects us all.
I’m not here to wedge myself in to such communities as the Roma or Bedouin, but to state my allegiance with those communities and the wider traveler/transient base.
How many of us shared solidarity with those at Dale Farm? How many of us shared solidarity with the Palestinian Bedouin at Khan Al-Ahmad?
Are we not kin? Is their plight not part of our own? Can we justify our existence whilst ignoring the struggles of those who share our transient identity, however it is defined?
As well as – and maybe beyond – our rejection of a static frame of reference being the ultimate goal of our lives, we must reject any semi-transient/semi-static life that is forced upon us, which rejects our spatial autonomy and uses our transience against us.
Our transience can only – and must only – be acknowledge on our own terms.
We cannot be forced to accept a form of transience imposed upon us by the state, specifically designed to reject or ignore our spatial autonomy, and to dictate our transience in terms which we have no control over and under which we cannot thrive, but instead barely subsist.
Transients stay when they want to and move when they want to. Not when it is decreed acceptable by a state constantly trying to diminish their existence or deny their humanity.
And whilst I have no known ties to ethnically defined transient groups (believe me, I’d shout it proudly if I did), I nevertheless stand in solidarity with all transient peoples, however they define themselves, against all injustices they face.
An attack on one is an attack on us all: Because wherever we come from, however we define ourselves, and however we became transient, the threat we pose to the states that abhor us and the policies they employ to dehumanise and attack us, are universal and affect us all.
We need to build a community again which recognises who we are. A community that recognises the different members and groups in that community, that recognises the value their existence has in promoting our community and it’s diversity, and which dedicates itself to the struggle of each and every member and group as equals.
That’s why I happily work on vehicle conversions for next to nothing.
I want our community to grow and to become empowered, and to feel a collective identity that ensures we look out for each other.
For over 2 decades, that community has been eroded to the point of almost nonexistence by the state and the complicity of some travelers (most notably those of us without an ethnic transient identity, who have been happily apathetic to both the struggles of the Roma community and the struggles of the “non-economically successful” transient community, such as the transient homeless).
We can no longer ignore our community, our shared identity.
We can no longer allow our community to become an exclusive club, whose members only consist of those who have somehow succeeded in thriving within the political and economic and social system that envelopes us – a system that dictates which transient people are acceptable and which are not, on terms that we don’t get to dictate and which are designed to deny us of that self-determination, terms designed to conquer our community through division. We cannot countenance a club whose members can turn their backs on those who didn’t have the advantages others have had, or who can demonise or neglect those who struggle for transience against a system built to imprison them.
As Lincoln said (forgive the static use of language): “A house divided against itself cannot stand”.
If you have succeeded in a transient lifestyle within this system without fighting for those transient people who are struggling, you aren’t succeeding: you’re only contributing to a system that denies others their humanity, and will ultimately deny your own.
Before the turn of the millennium, and shortly after, we still had a strong transient community in the UK.
We still have pockets of that strong community.
And to my delight, we even have new pockets growing within that strong community – from Brighton to Bristol, all the way up into Edinburgh and the highlands of Scotland, we have pockets of the transient community who recognise each other and fight for each other.
But we still fail to stand by each other. We still fail the transient homeless, and we ignore their problems and their shared identity with us. We still fail to accept our shared community, ironically beyond the small villages we make for ourselves.
And many still fail to even acknowledge their place within that community, pretending that unless those injustices affect them personally, they can ignore them or put the blame on those members of our community who are affected by them.
If we want spatial autonomy, if we want transience on our terms, we are obliged to fight for all those transient people who are denied transience on their own terms.
Otherwise, what does our transience stand for, other than an individualist – almost solipsistic – approach which guarantees nobody, even those who hold to it, any guarantee of freedom and self-determination?
We’re a diverse and resourceful community, capable of facing extreme odds whilst struggling for our autonomy, our freedom, our self-determination.
That’s literally what defines each and every one of us.
We need to make that intrinsic strength of our community a force to bond us and to fight for each of our kin.
Whoever you are, however your transience is defined, we must stand together. We must acknowledge our community – both the successful and the deprived, the accepted and the reviled.
We are transient. Together.
Our community cannot fall.
If found something disturbingly telling a few months back.
During an anti-Brexit march in manchester, which passed many homeless people I knew on the street, not one person stopped to even speak to the homeless.
You marched on our home, and none of you had the presence of mind to acknowledge our existence.
I’m anti-Brexit, and I support your cause.
But I find it very telling that the largely middle-class demographic saw fit to actively ignore the very vulnerable people they pretend to care about.
As I say, if your struggle ignores or doesn’t even begin with homeless/transient issues and people, you’ve failed from the outset and I cannot stand with you.
Of all the intersections of society, those who live on the street and how you interact with them are the baseline – the yardstick by which your ability to succeed will be predicted and your worthiness of the support of your fellow humans will be determined.
We cross every divide, because abject poverty and anti-transient and anti-homeless prejudice have, at their very root, no greater discrimination.
Homeless and transient people of colour, homosexuals, transgender, women, mentally or physically disabled, elderly, etc, all face challenges above and beyond what those not facing such prejudices do.
But homeless and transient people, as a whole, face challenges beyond those prejudices that nobody else does or could ever understand without walking through that lonesome valley.
We’re the bottom rung.
In everything you do, remember that.
We’re the forgotten.
We’re the ones it is socially acceptable *across the board* to forget and neglect.
How you treat us, how your interact with us, how you deal with our issues, defines whether your campaign for justice and equality not only has a chance to succeed, but is even worthy of succeeding in the first place.
Step on our faces if you want, but if you do we’ll make your feet stink for centuries.