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Homeless Truths

How does it feel to be homeless?

We’ve joined up with the British Journal of Photography  for a unique project called Homeless Truths. We want to tell the stories of the real lives of people experiencing homelessness in London, through their own eyes.

Too often homeless people are ignored and walked past. Made to feel like they’re ‘other’ or people to be pitied. To have their humanity taken away from them. We wanted to turn this point of view around. We asked homeless people to shoot how they feel. To share the reality of their life with us. In their own voice, through their own eyes. 

 

Five people who have experienced homelessness or are experiencing homelessness were given a Polaroid camera and asked to document their lives. We asked them to shoot how they feel and share the reality of their life. Under the mentorship of Inzajeano Latif, a documentary photographer with years of experience in creating nuanced, empathetic portraits, the images create a collective photographic exploration of homelessness as it is experienced by those living it. 

The link between mental distress and homelessness is a complex one. But what we do know is that 80% of homeless people have reported struggling with their mental health and suicide is the second most common cause of death for homeless people. We want this project to show that being homeless doesn’t need to mean feeling hopeless – as well as helping CALM reach more people who need our services and let them know that if they’re struggling, they’re not alone.

As our CEO, Simon says: “Too often those experiencing homelessness are ignored. They are made to feel like they are ‘other’ or people to be pitied. Their humanity is often taken away. By asking the participants to shoot how they feel and share the reality of their life with us, we wanted to turn this point of view around.”

With Homeless Truths we want to dispel some of the common misconceptions around homelessness, giving a platform to some of society’s most vulnerable, and often overlooked, individuals.

Here are the stories and pictures of the five participants:

Saffron

 

“I see things that other people can’t see”

“People can’t see mental health illnesses or autism; it is not like having a broken leg. That’s what I’d like to get across.” Saffron lives in Brixton, South London, in a flat she shares with her pet cat and dog. The latter, JoJo, is a vivacious Dalmatian, and the subject of a series of Polaroids taken by Saffron during lockdown. “My animals are the closest thing I have ever had to a real family,” she says, explaining the inspiration behind the photographs.

Dee

 

“Nature is my sanity”

At the age of 70, Dee spent 10 months homeless in London. Nature helped her:  “I worked out things to do and found nature and parks to sit in; museums and art galleries to spend my days,” she says. Before then, homelessness was not something she had ever contemplated; at least not as something she would experience first hand. “Life has always been good to me,” she says. “Happy marriage, now of 53 years. A great family. Plenty of grandchildren and, at the time, a well-paid job. Being homeless was an awful experience,” Dee says. “But life’s lessons make one a better person and more considerate for others in the same position.”

Wayne

 

“My name is Wayne and I am a homeless photographer”

For years, Wayne has been battling mental health issues including depression and anxiety. He has been sectioned several times; on occasions suicidal. Wayne is in a difficult place. “I’m just surviving,” he says. At the time of writing, Wayne is living in a house of multiple occupancy (HMO), wherein facilities like the toilet and kitchen are shared with other tenants. But prior to this, he was sleeping on the streets of London. “I speak very well and present myself well,” he reflects, “so a lot of people assume that there are no problems in my life. They assume that I’m okay, when I’m not.”

Curtis

“I see glimpses of something wonderful but I don’t get to hold it”

Curtis did not want to do this project. Granted he was intrigued, but the overwhelming feeling was reluctance. He had little interest in photography – “I have never been a photograph person,” he says –  and once more, his experience of homelessness was not a story he wanted to tell. “Homeless Truths,” he says, quoting the project title. “I just didn’t want to come from that perspective – telling my story and stuff. I have a lot of pride.” But over several months, something changed. “A lightbulb came on,” says Curtis. “And then I was really taken with the project.”

Kerry

 

“Today I am a strong, confident and resilient woman, but it hasn’t always been that way”

Kerry, now 36, has endured three periods of homelessness in her life. All of them pushed her to the brink. Homeless Truths helps to shed light on her experiences. “Today I am a strong, confident and resilient woman,” says Kerry. “But it hasn’t always been that way. I had to go through a lot to get to where I am now.” Kerry now has a place to call home and is pursuing new-found interests in interior design and photography. But the trauma of her past still blights the present. “There are times when my mental health is not in a good place,” she says. “Little triggers set off my PTSD. But when I think of what I’ve been through, I’m in a good place. If I’m having a bad day, I have to pinch myself and remember that I have had worse than this.”

 

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