Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A place to call home

Much as I might grumble about the prevailing and irritating tendency to celebretise documentaries in the apparent assumption that people need a recognisable name and face to be tempted into watching, Professor Green: Hidden And Homeless was a worthy programme with a powerful message, helping to challenge preconceptions of homelessness.

The documentary began with Professor Green - aka Stephen Manderson - accompanying a young rough sleeper called Luke, who roamed the Manchester streets at night. The narrative arc of Luke's life - broken home, descent into truancy, drug-taking and increasingly serious crime - no doubt conformed to many viewers' preconceived notions of a stereotypical homeless person. Manderson initially regarded Luke as a "good kid" at heart, expressing horror at the course his life had taken and openly admitting that in the same situation he too would almost certainly turn to drugs and drink as coping mechanisms for blotting out the miserable reality of day-to-day existence on the streets. But later on his sympathy and patience were tested by Luke's persistent and exasperating lapses of attitude and self-discipline.

However, Luke wasn't the real focus of the programme - after all, his homelessness wasn't hidden. Manderson met with several other people whose stories were rather more surprising, and who weren't even considered homeless (according to official government statistical measures) - from father-of-two Jerome, who held down a job but still couldn't afford accommodation in London and was forced to sofa-surf, to the single mum for whom redundancy resulted in her defaulting on mortgage payments and a move into the spare bedroom of a friend, and whose case underlined both the precarious situation in which many of us now live and the fact that homelessness impacts inestimably on children as well as adults.

Manderson's contention that the issue is about far more than merely bricks and mortar was compelling. Homelessness is not only often precipitated by traumatic and damaging experiences but is also just such a traumatic and damaging experience itself. Putting a roof over the head of formerly homeless people and then assuming the job has been done and they can be left to fend for themselves is futile; they also need generous and ongoing support and guidance to help them to reintegrate back into "normal" society.

The documentary offered some evidence of projects that valiantly aim to do just that by addressing the psychological impact of homelessness and furnishing people with self-esteem and useful life skills. But, with the government cuts coupled with rising house prices, it was hard not to agree with Manderson's conclusion that there is currently little cause for optimism that the situation is going to change for the better any time soon. Nevertheless, merely raising awareness of the complexity of the issue is a positive step - one for which Manderson and the much maligned BBC3 should be applauded.

No comments: