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Hummingbird: London's Homeless on Film

24/06/2013 15:44 BST | Updated 24/08/2013 10:12 BST
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There's a new movie out this week in the UK. It starts with its leading man sleeping in a cardboard box in London's West End.

The film, Hummingbird, stars Jason Statham as troubled Joey Jones, a former soldier who ends up street homeless following traumatic events whilst serving in the army.

As an outreach manager for St Mungo's, a charity working with homeless and vulnerable people across London and the South, the sad truth is that rough sleeping is not a Hollywood fable. Around ten people will sleep rough on London's streets for the first time tonight.

Rough sleeping is on the rise nationally - up 31% over the last two years - with new figures in London also showing a rise in the capital over the past year.

Let me unpick the Hollywood version from the reality on the streets a little more.

At St Mungo's we asked former rough sleepers to interview 34 people, men and women, who had all slept rough over the last 12 months.

They said it often doesn't take much for someone to end up on the streets. It can be a short chain of events, like the breakdown of a relationship, losing a loved one or losing your job. You end up with nothing, destitute and often desperately sad:

"Life was good, married for 20 years and then she died. I didn't care [about becoming homeless]. My wife had died."

"When I was sleeping rough I was vulnerable, scared, was spat upon and told I'm a dirty tramp."

"Sleeping rough was horrible. Waking up with frost over me in the morning."

Homelessness is also very much a health issue. People who end up sleeping rough can also have had troubled childhood, be in poor physical health and often suffer from diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness.

"I've been on and off the streets since the age of 14. I left home of my own accord because of family problems. Unless you had a bottle of spirits my mum didn't want to know, and my dad didn't want to know."

The reality is that people find themselves in a desperate situation - and we need to stop homelessness before it starts.

St Mungo's is asking people to join us in saying #NoMore. No more increases in the number of people sleeping rough. No more preventable homelessness and no more suffering on the streets.

Back to the movie. One myth it doesn't shatter is that there are many former soldiers on the streets. The reality is that only 4% of those sleeping rough last year were in the UK army. That compares with 11% of rough sleepers who told outreach teams they had been in the care system.

One line in the film rang very true, however. At one point Jason Statham's character screams: "It's not just soup that we want. It's for help to get our lives back!"

Supporting people off the streets and into housing, health and work opportunities is our priority at St Mungo's and we are proud of what we achieve.

But how much better if they had never had to sleep rough in the first place.

For more on St Mungo's visit www.mungos.org/nomore

Directed by Steven Knight and starring Jason Statham, Hummingbird is in cinemas Friday from Lionsgate UK.