Are You Aware?

Maia Miller-Lewis, Awareness Head for Bristol University Help The Homeless Society, reflects on how you can help end the homelessness epidemic. 

We are all ‘aware’ of homelessness. We see it every day when we walk down the street. We see it in the people sat in front of Sainsbury’s, desperately trying to wrap up warm against the unpredictable weather conditions. It shrouds the people who come up to you when you’re sat outside the pub, asking if you can spare some change so they can get a cup of tea.

But this awareness is fleeting. It is a momentary insight into a situation that many people live with every day. In truth, we often become blind to it in front of our very eyes. Tell me, when was the last time you thought about the people, freezing to death on the streets while you were tucked up with your hot chocolate, watching EastEnders? When was the last time you thought twice about those stats on the news? I bet you can count them on one hand.

This, at its core, is the motive behind Homelessness Awareness Week. It is a nationwide attempt, through events, talks, art shows, fundraisers, encouraging an active and ongoing social awareness of the issues and challenges that people on the streets face every day. From this foundation, the hope is to inspire people to get involved and participate in any way they can.

The idea of committed participation often incites fear in even the most dedicated campaigner. They too are clinging to the invaluable free time that they manage to carve out of their chaotic present. We all have obligations, hobbies and the general need to chill out – it’s not a crime! Participation doesn’t have to make you a slave to the cause. Engagement can be going to a pub quiz, like the one organised by Bristol University Help the Homeless Society: paying a fiver, which is donated to a local charity or night shelter, to have a laugh and a drink with your mates is a start. If you want to go further, you could volunteer for a charity in your community. National organisations such as Shelter are in desperate need of enthusiastic individuals to help them advocate for fair and equal housing. Surely you’ve seen them canvassing on the street. Don’t panic, I’ve walked past them too. It can be hard not to get caught up in whatever is going on in your own life, and acknowledge what is going on around you.

Homelessness collage - fran newton

In truth, you don’t really need to have an absolute, burning desire to change the world to want to help. Actively involving yourself with your community to help others can indirectly help you too! If you’re feeling anxious, stressed, or trapped in a monotonous routine, helping someone less fortunate than yourself can provide you with an often much-needed distraction to your own internal monologue. It can also give you the opportunity to take a step back and reflect on the point you are at in your own life. Unexpectedly, it may even change your perspective on issues you are personally dealing with which can seem all-consuming.

There is nothing wrong with feeling validated when you give away your spare change. You have done your bit when you buy someone, sat outside Sainsbury’s, a sandwich because they look like they haven’t eaten in two days. But at the end of the day, unfortunately, it doesn’t solve the greater problem. It can’t remedy an epidemic that has permeated the very core of our society; an unnatural phenomenon that has been normalised by our ever-individualising culture. The best thing we can do if we truly want to be a collective, compassionate society is to acknowledge that homelessness is everyone’s problem – and it’s not going to just go away when you shut your front door.

Search ‘Bristol University Help the Homeless Society 2017/18’ on Facebook to find out more about how you can help.

Illustration by Fran Newton.

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