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14 March 2019

On International Women’s Day 2019, Croydon High School hosted the annual conference of the National Council of Young Women (NCYW). This year the focus was on homelessness, and the school, which is part of the Girl’s Day School Trust, invited Glass Door to participate. Pupils at the school are also selling wrist bands to raise funds and awareness for Glass Door and Croydon Night Watch. Sixth-form pupil Milla Booth reports.

Humanising Homelessness: Our Big Issue

- By Milla Booth, Croydon High School

On Friday 8 March 2019, Croydon High held its annual NCYW conference, which this year aimed to inform and educate us about the many complicated issues related to homelessness. In particular, we wanted to consider the challenges this generation faces as the crisis deepens.

We heard from seven key speakers from a variety of backgrounds: some refugees themselves, some who had experienced homelessness and some on the other side, working as councillors to help eradicate this problem in the future or with charities seeking to help right now.

Caroline from charity Glass Door mentioned that a staggering 1 in 54 people are now homeless in London. Many of us experience the feeling of shame every time we pass by someone on the side of the street, bundled in a sleeping bag, and perhaps we feel that it is better not to think about them.

After all, how can one individual and some loose change, change the life of someone on the street?

We can’t. Not individually anyway. Councillor Julia Pitt repeatedly said:

The only way to end it [homelessness] is together.

Arguably this was the main point made by many of the other speakers.

Speakers (including Glass Door's Caroline in stripy jumper) gather at Croydon High for the Annual Conference of the National Council of Young Women

Challenging stigmas

So why is it that most people avoid eye contact with the homeless? There is a damaging stigma around the homeless that somehow, perhaps, they deserve the position they find themselves in, or that they are dangerous people to be avoided.

Challenging this stereotype, Caroline spoke movingly of a woman named Annabel, who suffered from severe post-natal depression, which caused her life to spiral out of control and resulted in her losing her job and home.

The truth is that people like Annabel could never anticipate or control the fact that the she might develop post-natal depression nor the problems it led to. More than that, where is our humanity? If any of us saw a person lying in the street, injured, surely we would offer our support even if that was just calling an ambulance and staying with them until they arrived.

Humanising homelessness

No one is expecting the average individual to perform surgery and prescribe medication on the side of the street. Really, the same should apply to homelessness.

We must stop ignoring it as a problem that ‘doesn’t concern us’ simply because it is not easy to solve. It is the small actions that have the most effect.

There are so many helplines that the average passer-by can call to request help for a homeless person, but even just a smile, an acknowledgment of existence, is enough to spark some hope for that person, showing them that someone does believe in them.

I am a true believer that if you do nothing to help solve the problem then you are part of the problem.

So, I say to you: be a part of the change – do not ignore the homeless. Offer even the smallest bit of help if you can. It is time to stop ignoring the problem, it is time to start humanising homelessness.

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