There are currently estimated to be 320,000 people in Britain recorded as homeless according to a report released in November 2018 by the housing charity Shelter, an estimate which by their own admission is conservative. Shelter works not only with providing support to rough sleepers but also offers advice, support and legal services to people who are struggling with unsuitable accommodation and bad housing, as well as campaigning to end homelessness altogether.
Their latest report on the housing crisis in the UK shows an increase of 4% on the 2017 figures. That’s equivalent to an additional 36 people being made homeless every day.
Many people think of homelessness simply as people sleeping rough on the streets. Attitudes are often accompanied by assumptions about begging, mental illness, substance abuse, or even that people deliberately choose to live on the streets.
What people don’t generally associate with homelessness are the less obviously noticeable issues caused by bad and inadequate housing, especially in major urban areas like London, where the housing crisis is at its worst. Barely affordable rental prices, coupled with cuts in welfare and a refusal by many private landlords to accept tenants claiming housing benefit have forced many working people, including families with young children in to temporary accommodation. Temporary accommodation which is often unsuitable and ends up being long term.
The fact is, anyone can become homeless and it’s not just an issue that affects the most marginalised in society.
Over the last couple of months I’ve been working with Shelter to photograph people all over the UK who have been affected in one way or another by issues surrounding housing and homelessness. The people I’ve met all had their own stories to tell and have been affected by circumstances which could affect anyone at any time. I met a family with five children living in two rooms in a Travel Lodge. I met single parents living with their children in single rooms. Single parent families facing eviction from the hostel rooms they were living in, facing the prospect of rough sleeping. I met a family with two children who’d slept rough for one night, now living in a single room. A wheelchair user housed by the council in accommodation with too many stairs and no disabled access. These were all people who’d had jobs and stability but whose circumstances had forced them into their current predicaments.
The portraits could be of anyone in your daily life, your neighbours, friends, colleagues, your family. The faces are those of normal, everyday people, like you and me. They’re not incoherent, drunken beggars, they’re people with ordinary lives, with jobs, with families, with dignity.
However, when the media report the issues highlighted by Shelter’s report, they largely rely on lazy stereotypes of homelessness to illustrate the story, preferring to show stock images of anonymous rough sleepers or their tents, instead of the real faces of the people who are affected by this crisis. Perhaps this reflects the difficulty people have in putting a human face to the issue - of empathising with people affected by homelessness. Perhaps it’s easier to dismiss people as anonymous strangers, instead of recognising them as individuals. Among the few media outlets covering the report which didn’t simply use stock imagery were the BBC and the London Evening Standard who actually linked the story to real people. Most others, even the Guardian and the New York Times chose to ignore the personal angle and stuck to statistics, government policy and quotes from politicians and ministers, keeping the personal realities very much at a distance.
This gallery shows some of those people I photographed for Shelter. The point I’m trying to make is that there are real people behind the statistics. Real stories and lives that are affected and they deserve to be acknowledged, not simply reduced to a statistic.