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Cold comforts

November 01 2020
'No Fixed Abode' by Maeve McClenaghan 'No Fixed Abode' by Maeve McClenaghan

Suddenly writers seem to be noticing individuals who are homeless. New books reviewed by Sarah Hough

Little Miss Homeless
by Harriet Earle-Brown has got to be the most real short story about a woman experiencing homelessness I’ve ever read. It’s also beautifully illustrated with the simplicity of the popular Mr Men children’s book series. It cuts right to the issues and doesn’t shy away from capturing the experiences of many woman experiencing homelessness. The story of Little Miss Homeless will resonate with anyone with lived experience of homelessness and serves as a great tool to promote a gendered approach to services.

How to be Hopeful: your toolkit to rediscover hope and help create a kinder world by Bernadette Russell (Elliott & Thompson, £12.99) is the insightful journey of the author away from depression and negative thinking to becoming more hopeful. This book’s practical exercises are helpful to frame your goals and passions and to reconnect you to what is important: kindness, love and respect. However, as I thought of my time on the streets, I remembered how hard it was to be hopeful when faced with discrimination and barrier after barrier. I guess it's much easier to be hopeful when you are housed, supported and part of a community.

No Fixed Abode by Maeve McClenaghan (Picador, £20). At the time of year when we gather at St Martin’s in Trafalgar Square to mourn the loss of those who have died experiencing homelessness, No Fixed Abode is particularly relevant. The book was hard to put down and follows the journey of journalist Maeve to learn about life and death among the UK’s forgotten homeless beginning with the death of Tony, a man who died outside the very house he had been evicted from. Maeve started her investigation trying to find out how many people experiencing homelessness had died in 2018. But Maeve discovered that coroners and local authorities were not keeping count of those who had died. Even the Office for National Statistics (ONS) didn’t have a system in place to record these deaths. Furthermore, no adult safeguarding reviews were taking place and so nothing was learnt about prevention or what mistakes were being made.

The Dying Homeless project started by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which led to No Fixed Abode, is being continued by the Museum of Homelessness. You can collaborate with the project, either by submitting tributes and memorials of people you know who have passed away in 2020 or by contributing to the national network. Contact Miranda Keast on
© Aparna Maladkar

Maeve met with family members, front line workers, people experiencing homelessness, coroners, professionals and service providers to seek information about those who died, including details of their childhood, family life and the details of their death. The saddest thing for me was that many of these deaths were preventable but funding cuts to mental health services, substance misuse services and years of austerity have left many people out in the cold with little or no support. Maeve’s research revealed the first ever national figure for those who had died experiencing homelessness in 2018: 449 people. With winter approaching in the midst of a global pandemic this work can’t be ignored. Already Maeve’s work with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has been revolutionary in what it has achieved as the ONS published the first ever official data on the deaths of people experiencing homelessness. I highly recommend this book to policy makers, frontline workers and all professionals working with people experiencing homelessness. I would also recommend it to anyone who is experiencing homelessness and their families.

Crisis Skylight Brings Hope & Stability by Luckner Pierre, £10.99 is a self-published 24-page booklet. It includes stories, poems and recovery tips by coffee-loving Mr Pierre. Booklets like this which share your recovery story or resilience skills are free to make in paperbacks and Kindle eBooks using the Amazon KDP template at: