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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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July 01 2019
This piece by Matthew Hobbs is inspired by the recovery theme of our last issue (Issue 120) This piece by Matthew Hobbs is inspired by the recovery theme of our last issue (Issue 120)
There’s no normal when you lose your home. This piece by Matthew Hobbs is inspired by the recovery theme of our last issue (Issue 120)

In a nutshell

  • There is nothing normal about homelessness. But homelessness has become increasingly normalized.
  • Being homeless is a shock for you and the people around you. It breaks friendships.
  • No one with a home is any better than you are.

There’s no normal when you lose your home.

‘Recovery’ is the language I was conversant in, as a therapy worker, prior to my own experience of homelessness when I was 24-years-old. But looking back now, what the fuck did I know about ‘recovery’?

Nothing I learnt prepared me for dealing with the loss, rage and downright despair I felt when I lost my home. My solid world had lost all sense of stability and security. Overnight I was no longer a healthcare provider, but rather someone crying out for this same care and support. Nearly four years on I’m still grappling to ‘recover’.

In quaint Cambridge, where I grew up, I would see the homeless characters around town, acting out what I understood to be ‘their’ pantomime of perceived personal failing. There was Wolfie, the wheelchair-bound Glasto-burnout warning us to “just say no” as he rolled by, and an infamous former Don who sadly didn’t heed this message. I could cook dinner at the night shelter or offer a few coins and pat myself on the back for doing my bit: I was not one of ‘them’, whoever ‘they’ might be.

Considering this narrative, my own experience of homelessness came as a shock. I did not see myself in this homogenous mass of misfits. My gaze had been diverted away from the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of this social drama; distancing me and definitely otherising ‘them’.

The hidden reality was a labyrinthine system of well-meaning support, but filled with hoops and hurdles that seemed intent on knocking anyone in it down. My shock, cloaked in the therapeutic language of trauma, was explained as a normal response to an abnormal situation. Yet there is nothing normal about homelessness, even if homelessness has become increasingly normalized. My previously averted gaze to those ‘other’ was about an unwillingness to confront the unpalatable truth of this social injustice.

The trauma of homelessness severs social bonds, sending us spiraling from crisis to crisis. Yet rather than recognizing these crises as the result of battling a broken system, they are lampooned as personal maladjustment. It is clear that new narratives are needed so we see the experience of homelessness more clearly, and in-turn ourselves. It was only through connecting with others with similar experiences, meeting their eye and sharing our stories that I found ‘recovery’. 

After much grappling I have realized that whatever I lost was not worth having to begin with. Admittedly, that’s easy for me to say having now returned to the nine-to-five chai-latté grind of ‘respectable society’. But as I write, my fingers tapping the keys, I can’t help but feel the floor could give way beneath my feet sending me out to some South London street, and for this I’m grateful. I don’t wish to relive my brief chapter of homelessness, nor do I wish for you to be living yours. But I do want to keep alive that the separation of being here with a home, or there on the street without a home, is paper thin. For me it’s a pay-cheque, in fact.

  • If you are homeless there are places to tell your story:
    Cardboard Citizens, see Reasons to be Cheerful
    Groundswell, see News