When engaging with reflective thinking on any topic, a good start is to question the very essence of the topic. And this is a good start with the concept of being homeless.
10’s of millions of refugees are truly homeless, in any reasonable view of what being homeless means. They have no secure rights to being on any piece of land, their shelter is temporary, even though it may be standing for many years, they can only exist on handouts as they have lost all connection to being able to work sustainably, to earn money, to build capital as a back up against threats.
We can compare this to homelessness in the cities of an affluent world, where most people have substantial accommodation with reliable supply of fuel and water and sanitation. Homelessness is segmented into categories, in typical left brain rational style.
We have people who mainly sleep on the street and occasionally in shelters. We have people who live in shelters when they can, and maybe try to earn some kind of income from street service, begging or selling, and sometimes buying and selling.
We have people who live with friends and acquaintances, registered as homeless and seeking accommodation, with rights and priorities allocated such as single parents, elderly, disabled.
Trying to understand homelessness in the wealthy cities seems to present problems to leaders and citizens, because it challenges our left and right-brained thinking. If we try to understand homelessness with our feelings, our holistic vision and empathy, it is very uncomfortable. So we try to dispose of understanding with our left brain, we try to categorise it, and because it consists of many variations we try to deal with each one separately.
We try to see people in temporary accommodation with friends as a problem of lack of suitable housing, if we had enough housing this would not be a problem.
The problem with this analysis, and analysis is of course a left brain activity, is that people can alter the priorities, so it is said that young women can get accommodation by becoming pregnant. As you try to treat this kind of homelessness with logic you find people use logic in response, and so it moves away from being a rational issue it moves into the territory of right-brained holistic thinking.
People who are left to street living are a real challenge to all kinds of reasoning. The fact that a good proportion are either from children’s homes, after few or many years, or ex armed forces, is reason enough for some to see options for treatment and/or prevention, but decades of attempts to do something seem not to change the relentless ups and downs of numbers of people on the streets.
Harassing people who are sleeping on the street may reduce numbers but are they just hiding better?
This returns us to the starting point, how is it different in the ‘third world? There, people are refugees or members of communities, so how are we creating societies which mean that people become alienated, people opt out, people are against the community in small and large ways?
This suggests that homelessness has nothing to do with logic, reason, the number of houses, the price of accommodation, the availability of mortgages, the availability of jobs. Outside of the world of refugees, who run from the most awful circumstances, homelessness as all about how people see themselves within society, or not, and how society sees the people who live within and without it.
It is interesting that Orwell’s book, Down and Out in Paris and London, probably says more about the problem, the issues, than any Government report.