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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Those next human steps

December 01 2023
© Mat Amp © Mat Amp

Our deputy editor ponders the steps we need to take when re-engaging with society and recovering. By Mat Amp

There are really very few themes more relevant to those of us who have had to recover from the experience of homelessness than this issue’s theme ‘Next steps’. For anyone who has had to piece their life back together in the wake of the anxiety-inducing chaos caused by living without a safe and secure place to call home, some sort of planned pathway will often be the key foundation stone in building an effective and ultimately sustainable recovery.

For many of us, the initial part of our journey into homelessness will have involved some sort of chaos and disintegration. It is a period when life feels akin to being trapped in a tunnel where any and all opportunities to escape are either hidden by the darkness or scuppered by the time demanded by the basic need to survive.

For most of us, it takes a bit of help to identify our next steps, and the provision of a metaphorical hand to hold and guide us as we stumble our way to the light at the end of this proverbial tunnel. While some of us will just need the single, simple step of finding a home, most of us will need extra help to deal with other stuff like maintaining a tenancy, paying bills and finding something meaningful to fill our days.

But apart from the practical side of recovering from homelessness, there is an added factor that very few people seem to talk much about. Surely, we are going to be more motivated to re-engage with mainstream society if we don’t think that mainstream society is a steaming pile of shite.

There was so much hope in the western world during the 1990s that we were creating a free, caring society built on the values of community, honesty and kindness. But instead of instigating the promised progressive economic and social change, politicians chose to create a sophisticated maze of smoke and mirrors in which meaningless soundbites became king. In the meantime, policy was developed by focus groups with a single mission: How do we cause the least offense to swing voters in swing seats?

Since then, honesty has become increasingly undervalued to the point that it is now perceived as a weakness in our leaders, with voters respecting politicians who can dress a fox up as a chicken and call it a tortoise. The justification behind this warped form of respect seems to have slithered its way into the public consciousness through some sort of propaganda brain worm that tells us that anyone can be honest, but it takes someone clever and courageous to get away with deceiving an entire nation, or better still, the rest of the world.

I’m generally a glass totally full type of person, but when I was on the streets that glass was full of piss. I gave up on society and it took me a long time, some old friends, a few new ones, a touch of NA, some timely counselling and a Housing Association tenancy to put myself on the path to a sustainable recovery.

All of these things had to be there for me to find my way back from the margins of our society, but I got to wondering recently if part of my willingness to re-engage had been based on a massive misconception about the state of mainstream society. I believed then, and still did until a few days ago, that we now live in an increasingly progressive and accepting society. What changed, you ask?

The other day someone asked me this simple question: “Do you think this world is a better place than it was when you were a kid?”

My answer was swift and unequivocal. “Of course it is. It’s a million miles away from the world I grew up in 50 years ago. It’s moved past tolerance to acceptance and I feel more welcome as someone who used to be seen as unwanted by many because my parents were mixed race. Misogyny, homophobia and racism are not openly accepted in the way they used to be and child abuse is an issue that we no longer sweep under the carpet.”

His response to that killed my positive view of this fantastic modern world stone dead. 

“But you live in London.”

In the blink of a brain cell I understood that most people in the world live in very different societies to the one I’m used to. In many cases they are countries, systems and societies that have become increasingly intolerant over the past 50 years. But having accepted this new reality I also began to realise that I’d been looking at this issue of re-engagement through the wrong lens.

Instead of focusing on the corrupt, wonky-arsed political, financial and social systems that have been created to corral us all into our crude-fitting folds, I should have been thinking about the people.

It wasn’t my outlook on the world that helped to motivate my recovery, it was the example of some of the amazing people who live in it. What we all have in common is that we are human beings and humans being human are what makes the shittest of systems worth living in.

I work for a charity that is fuelled by a culture rooted in kindness and inclusion and it encourages the staff and volunteers to behave in a way that is characterised by acceptance and understanding. If we applied this ethos to our lives, from the way we educate our kids to the way we develop as people, we could soon start to create a way of life based on kindness, honesty and community.

And so, if you are looking for some motivation to inspire your recovery, try not to look at the big picture. The system isn’t important. What is important is the people in it and you are, most definitely, one of them.

© Mat Amp