21 Dec Christmas and the True Meaning of Homelessness
Now that we’ve officially given notice to our landlord, we only have nine more weeks left in our flat before we become homeless. Intentionally homeless, and jobless.
It took us a couple of years, several moves and some perilous encounters with bed bugs and unscrupulous landlords; as well as months of living with the windows open in the depths of winter to keep the mould at bay in one property to find the flat we live in now. Our little one-bed in zone three is as perfect as you can get if you rent in London. It’s relatively cheap, quiet, has double glazed windows and is only a 10 minute train journey away from London Bridge.
We’ve got used to living near our favourite park and even though the flat’s not ours we’ve put our pictures up on the walls, moved in our furniture and filled the place with all our worldly goods (which are slowly diminishing now we’re in the process of getting rid of our stuff). Leaving will be strange and yet the thought of being homeless is also exhilarating for us; we’re looking forward to being free to roam wherever we please.
But it’s only exciting because of the circumstances under which we’re leaving; only because we chose this and only because we’re going on to more exciting adventures. In fact, we hardly deserve to call ourselves homeless at all.
The True Meaning of Homelessness
After years of decline, in 2010, homeless figures began rising again in England due to a combination of the recession, unemployment and a decrease in affordable housing. As shown in a brilliant BBC panorama documentary I recently watched, this is an issue that touches all kinds of people; from the investment banker who lost his job and ended up sleeping in a park, to the family who had their house repossessed after their business collapsed, to the social housing tenants who were evicted because they couldn’t pay the rent. Even being sick doesn’t guarantee you any help – one woman having cancer treatment had her house repossesed by the bank because she owed them a paltry (in the grand scheme of things) £9,000.
On an anecdotal level, every day I walk by London Bridge station on my way to and from work past homeless people crouched in doorways clutching paper cups or holding their dogs in their laps. As the cold weather kicks in and we crank our heating up it seems I pass more of them every day and each time it sparks that same guilt – the guilt I think most of us who are fortunate enough to afford a safe place to sleep and food to eat feel. For me it also prompts that sense of travel guilt again, the suspicion that we’re being ungrateful for giving up our fortunate lives, our nice, cheap rental property and our relatively well-paid jobs for a life of uncertainty and financial instability.
This guilt has become more apparent to me as I’ve gotten older and also since we’ve lived in London. All of the realities and injustices of western society have become clearer by the day and the arbitrary gap between those who have money and those who don’t has been slowly getting to me. That’s why last year for the first time Andrew and I decided not to give or receive any Christmas presents. Instead, we donated to the homeless charity Crisis and dropped some food off at our local food bank. We’re doing the same this year.
Does it make us feel better? Does it have a long-term impact or appease our guilt? Probably not, but it provides short-term relief and feels a damn site better than simply buying useless gifts for people who don’t really want or need them.
As we prepare to leave the country and also to spend Christmas with our families, we remember now more than ever that we’re fortunate to be going on our round the world trip. We’re lucky that we have had the means to save up for this and we recognise that we don’t necessarily deserve this fortune – we are just lucky to have been born into stable lives in a stable country and to have had access to education and opportunities, which in turn have given us the means to make our travel dreams a soon-to-be reality.
Merry Christmas Everyone!