I would never tell anyone that there are positives to experiencing homelessness. But equally, I think it’s important to look back at experiences of adversity, and consider what they taught us.
Looking back, my experiences of homelessness made me far more resilient. They enabled me to look at tough situations as things I can get through rather than just things I have to accept. And they’ve taught me that to make it through, you have to truly believe you can find a solution.
Resilience can take many forms, but broadly it means we develop coping mechanisms and maintain balance in what could otherwise be overwhelming situations. It means the ability to stay calm in the face of a crisis. Something I know about first-hand.
It’s without a doubt terrifying when you don’t know where you will be sleeping from one night to the next, but when it’s your only option you have to just get on with it. Fight or flight takes over, and without knowing it you’re on autopilot.
When you’re expecting to stay in the same place all weekend and then you’re told with half an hours notice you have to leave, there is literally nothing you can do about it. At first that lack of control is hard to deal with, but you realise that kicking off or trying to fight it will only make things worse for you. The only way to deal with it is to focus on the few things you can control, your attitude, your mindset, and getting through one hour at a time. You have to learn to accept the things you can’t control, including the unpleasant feelings and emotions that undoubtedly come with any experience of homelessness. You get to a point where you realise you can’t avoid them; you just have to let them pass.
When you get put in a hostel with 18 other young people where drugs and antisocial behaviour are commonplace, it changes how you view the world.
When you get put in a hostel with 18 other young people where drugs and antisocial behaviour are commonplace, it changes how you view the world. It makes you realise that while everyone is responsible for their own behaviour, they are not responsible for many of the often traumatic things they have been through, which have a direct affect on their attitudes, thoughts and actions. Often people have very few options, and you can never judge the choices someone makes when you don’t know what options they had to begin with.
While you come to understand that everyone you’re living with is dealing with a tough situation the only ways they know how, it doesn’t make it any easier when you’re living it. You have to learn to live with the constant noise, arguments and fighting and the fear that brings, because what other option do you have?
Things will kick off. It’s inevitable when so many young people are living under the same roof, so you can’t show weakness; it can and will be used against you – your sexuality, your mental health, the fact that your best friend died recently, anything that will get a reaction. At first you react. How could you not? Eventually you learn that whilst it’s hurtful, it’s also coming from a place of hurt – they want to get to you, but they don’t really mean it.
It makes you more responsible for your own behaviour when you realise how much of an impact other people’s behaviour has on you. You have to respond positively and treat everyone how you want to be treated, even if it’s not reciprocated.
You have to stand up for yourself otherwise people will walk all over you. Whether it’s saying no to drugs or lending someone money, people will take advantage of your kindness, but that doesn’t mean you should stop being kind. At times the fear takes over and will continue to if you let it, but sitting around and feeling sorry for yourself will get you nowhere. You have to be proactive, come up with your own solutions and make the best of bad situations.
It’s safe to say that the things I learnt whilst I was experiencing homelessness helped me massively during six months of lockdown.
Services that are stretched beyond their means will give up on you; they will pass you off to the next charity. But it teaches you that no matter how many people give up on you, you must never give up on yourself. You have to have your own back even if no-one else does.
It’s safe to say that the things I learnt whilst I was experiencing homelessness helped me massively during six months of lockdown. I was able to stay calm and develop coping mechanisms to deploy when my usual support networks weren’t available. I was also aware that many of the things I was seeing online we’re fuelled by fear as so many people we’re suddenly living in fight-or-flight, and I know what that’s like. I was used to the unknown, so I found not knowing how long I’d be stuck inside, or unable to see my friends for, easier than a lot of people.
Resilience isn’t something you either have or you don’t, it’s something we can actively choose to build and work on. It’s about coping in tough situations, but also about adaptation and positive growth.
Anyone who has experienced homelessness will tell you that it doesn’t define them, however some of the thing’s homelessness teaches us, such as resilience, do and will continue to define us. It can be hard knowing that we can never forget tough experiences, and obviously I couldn’t choose not to experience it. Some days I wish more than anything I could forget, but I know I can’t, so I choose to use what the experience taught me as a force for good.
Hannah Green is a writer, speaker and lived experiences specialist at the Centre for Homelessness Impact. Follow her on Twitter at @h_green21