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Challenging our Perceptions of Homelessness

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Like many marginalised groups in society, I find that the homeless and vulnerably housed in London are very much misunderstood. A lack of awareness will lead people to believe negative stereotypes, such as those who are homeless are lazy, drug addicts and violent. However after having spent the past year volunteering at a local soup kitchen I have found that this is very much far from reality. The most common cause of homelessness is broken relationships (such as marital breakdown, domestic abuse, disputes with family or bereavement), significantly over heavy drinking, drug addiction and losing jobs. As a result, many who are homeless suffer from extreme isolation, leading to anxiety and depression. This can exacerbate their situation and further entrench them into homelessness.

What I have learned from this is that while many of these people do need basic amenities such as food and clothing, what they are also equally in need of is companionship and community. Unfortunately because of their situation, homeless people are often marginalised from society and find difficulty in accessing the most basic of support. There is tendency to see the homeless as very different from those who have homes, which results in many people ignoring the homeless on the street and overlooking local homeless charities.

In commemoration of World Homeless Day on October 10, Generation C Magazine has published a photo exhibition which challenges our perception of the homeless as a separate identity from the rest. The exhibition features photos taken by six different homeless and vulnerably housed men and women, the theme being "Twenty-fours in the life of..." I hope that everyone, especially Londoners, will take the time to go look through the exhibition and contemplate the photos and the lives of those who took them. This is a unique perspective of homelessness that most will never get a chance to see. What strikes me the most about these shots is that many of the images could have been taken by anyone, from an investment banker to a student, demonstrating that our perceptions as Londoners perhaps overlap much more than we think.

The featured photographers are guests at the soup kitchen where I volunteer. At its most basic the soup kitchen offers food and clothing however also serves as an important place for people to feel a part of a community, not just the homeless and vulnerably housed but the volunteers and employees as well. There are regular guests and volunteers of frequent the soup kitchen, which has led to the formation of many friendships, creating a fun, safe and warm environment. The soup kitchen also runs an art group, of which the photographers are members of, which creates a space for the guests to exercise their skills, especially their creative ones, and is a great way to cope with emotions and to simply enjoy one's self.

In the past year there was around an estimated 6,000 people who slept on London's streets. The number will continue to grow as we deal with repercussions of the economic recession and the cuts from housing benefits and other reforms. As this issue becomes more pressing it is important that as a society we address these problems and extend a welcoming and friendly hand.

If you are interested in contributing your time, efforts and donations to homelessness and helping to positively challenge our perceptions of homelessness please see http://www.thepavement.org.uk/ for information on your local homeless charities.