The Big Picture: A roof is not enough

A home is sometimes the last thing a homeless person needs. When you see someone sleeping rough or moving from one inadequate type of accommodation to another you might imagine that simply giving them a roof over their head is the answer.

The fact is that people end up homeless because of a whole series of reasons that are often hard to unravel and even harder to solve. Sometimes, simply dumping a vulnerable person who has no support and precious few strategies for survival in a flat simply leads to them becoming isolated and demoralised. This situation might ultimately mean that they fall back into the very patterns of behaviour that led to them becoming homeless in the first place.

What homelessness services need to provide is a holistic approach. This might, indeed, be helping someone to find a permanent place to live, but it might also mean addressing their health needs, providing them with the necessary life skills to help them move on or offering them the sort of training that will enable them to find employment. Above all, it means restoring in people a sense of purpose and possibility when such feelings have often become eroded.

I have recently become an Ambassador for Emmaus, the homelessness charity. There are 13 Emmaus Communities around the UK in which the previously homeless residents live and work. Each community aims to support itself financially on the strength of the business, which is refurbishing and selling donated household goods. In effect, Emmaus Communities mend chairs and mend lives.

The strength of the organisation is that each resident is treated as an individual and the staff aim to bring about real and lasting change in the lives of the people who live there. Unlike hostels, residents can stay for as long or as short a time as it takes to get themselves back on track and to address some of the issues that led to their previous lives unravelling.

It isn’t a quick fix. The residents have to work hard and have to be prepared to use the support that is offered to them. They don’t all succeed of course. No homelessness service would claim to be the only solution, but it seems to me that this one gives people the very best chance possible.

Anita Roddick is an ambassador for Emmaus, a homelessness charity, and founder of The Body Shop

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