The question of whether or not homelessness is self-inflicted, is one I have spent this week asking. Why? As someone who campaigns on homelessness, I think it is important to be in touch with attitudes on the subject. I went out onto the streets of Woking and Camberley, equipped with a whiteboard and pen, trying to understand attitudes towards people on the streets. The results were surprising, 6% of respondents in Woking felt that the homeless were to blame, compared with 9% in Camberley.
Where people said that homeless people are at fault, I was keen to understand why. The most common reason was addiction. A few individuals felt addiction was a choice, the responsibility of the individual concerned. From this moment on, I raised this point of view to a few people who were more tolerant of homelessness. They countered this opinion; arguing that many people turn to drugs or alcohol to alleviate their suffering. I believe it is important that campaigners continue stand up for those with substance- misuse problems.
Another thing I have taken from this week is that half of those who said homelessness was self-inflicted in Camberley were aged 10 to 13. Their reasons were that one: they should have tried harder at school, and two: they should just get a job. Of course, in reality the causes of homelessness are very different. The biggest reason for homelessness is not being able to maintain a tenancy- low pay is not necessarily a result of not trying at school. I think charities should go into schools to encourage young people to reflect on the reasons people can become homeless.
So there you have it, less than one in ten people think homelessness is self-inflicted. But you would be forgiven for thinking this is a under-estimation. Perhaps those who felt that the homeless were at fault did not want to express this view in a public place, especially to a homelessness campaigner. Would an anonymous survey give different results? I asked the same question on SurveyMonkey, and slightly more people felt homeless people were to blame for their situation.
As you can see from above, 10% of people (more than the 9 and 6% in Camberley and Woking respectively), considered homelessness to be self-inflicted. That said, a 1-4% increase is very small, and 9 in 10 people did not think they were at fault.
This week, I have learnt that many people are compassionate towards the homeless. Nevertheless, as a campaigner it is my goal to persuade the less tolerant minority to re-consider their views . I will therefore send these findings to local homeless charities, in the hope that they will do more talks in schools. In the future, I think it is important to remind people that addicts do not chose to be addicted. This is of particular important given that a disproportionate number of rough-sleepers have substance misuse problems.