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Build The Homeless A Home

Build The Homeless A Home

According to The Guardian 70 people died on the streets in 2017. On average they were in their early 40’s. Is this acceptable? Should anyone in the UK not have a home?

About three years ago I spent an hour talking to a man who was homeless. This was the first time I’d spent time talking to someone living rough. He wasn’t in good health at the time; he was at least mid-40. If he stayed on the streets chances are he’s probably dead by now.

He was just an ordinary man, very much like me, we could easily have been two friends chatting in a bar. But why was he there and not me?

People like to say that we’re all a pay cheque or two away from destitution. While this may be mathematically true, I don’t think we actually believe that we would ever be in that situation. I certainly don’t believe it, not necessarily because of my own abilities, but because I am lucky enough to have an extensive support network. Since that conversation, I’ve spent a lot of time with people living on the streets. I even employed a homeless youngster for a while; we worked together for about a fortnight. 

Something I learned from people who are homeless is that they all have different stories of what led them to be on the streets. And yet there is a universal and underlying thread to each one: whatever their support network might have been, it just wasn’t enough. 

We all need help from people around us; even Bear Grylls had to learn his skills from someone else. For many people they just don't have sufficient support and help. What they needed to do they couldn’t, and probably couldn’t have done it alone. That doesn’t make them failures; it makes them the same as everybody else. If anything it’s the rest of us who has failed them.

In an ideal world we would all be part of a community, we would all be able and willing to help one another when it is needed. Most people want to belong to some sort of community as it makes us happier and securer. There’s even a Ted Talk which indicates that the most important guide to a longer life is social integration.Copy

It’s interesting how only when we do not have something is when we learn its real value. 

We have all come home from a long day, shut the door and breathed a sigh of relief. The front door is the most important part of a home, it keeps you safe, and it cocoons you from the rest of the world. The value of a home isn’t to do with its physical structure: the materials a house is comprised of, the size, the fittings and fixtures – it is all far less important than the security and emotional comfort it represents and maybe the people who share it with you. 

Hostels may keep you warm and dry at night, but you’re still homeless.

The inside of a converted shipping container.

Surely we can all agree that everyone requires a home, not merely just a shelter. There are many ways of providing homes. By far the quickest and most economical are modular homes, of which the most popular are converted shipping containers.  Once you’re inside they are virtually indistinguishable from a modern brick build flat. According to Crisis the cost of supporting a homeless person is over £20,000 a year, whereas a converted shipping container costs £10,000. 

When all this dawned on me, I met an incredible man named Jasper Thompson, from Help Bristol’s Homeless. Jasper started by handing out hot food every Sunday morning, and this project has since grown and now converted 11 shipping containers and a double decker bus into high quality micro-flats. Jasper is working to provide vulnerable people with homes. So I decided that the best thing that I could do was to help him.

This is a solution that works: the homes feel like an ordinary home, it is relatively quick and even saves local councils money. This is a solution that should be rolled out to every town in the country. And something wonderful happens; the residents who have moved into the new homes provide each other with support – an unexpected and very real community has been created. Very quickly two people have found jobs. The others have learnt new skills and are gaining qualifications.

All of these people are looking to the future with hope, and for some of them, this is for the first time in their adult lives.

By Adam Osen