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The Aftermath of Homelessness

When I was homeless, I was treated like dirt. And, for some reason, that was deemed

socially acceptable. When I was homeless, someone from the local housing department told

me I didn’t ‘deserve’ a home when I asked for help. When I was homeless, someone from

the local hospital told me I didn’t need mental health support after I attempted suicide,

because housing was someone else’s job. When I was homeless, on another occasion, the

hospital told me they rang the council twice a day for a week whilst I was on the ward telling

them that if I was discharged they felt I would die, and the council didn’t care, so the hospital

discharged back onto the street with no support. When I was homeless, the adult social care

team told me because I was a university dropout, I must be smart enough to know how to

not be homeless. When I was homeless, the police sexually assaulted me in my sleep and

when I tried to raise a complaint they said they used ‘reasonable force’ because apparently I

stirred too much in my sleep. I don’t know how to sleep in the right way to avoid sexual

assault, be smart in the right way, attempt suicide in the right way or be the sort of person

who deserves a home. But when I was homeless I learnt that these are all things a person

can do wrong, and if you do them wrong, then you don’t get help.

It’s been nearly two years since I was last homeless. Shortly after finding a home, I began

campaigning about homelessness. Someone asked at a housing conference if you could

solve homelessness if you invest enough money at it. You can, but I don’t believe that will

happen anytime soon. The contempt for homeless people, especially among those who

choose to work to help people, is palpable. Suella Braverman recently called being

homeless a ‘lifestyle choice.’ It is a disgusting thing to say, but those attitudes don’t exist in a

vacuum. It’s the same sentiment I saw repeatedly throughout the local authority I lived in;

those who made the ‘lifestyle choice’ to work in housing, social care and politics. After I had

those traumatising experiences, I became involved in local politics and met the Leader of

that Council and I immediately understood why their systems were so cruel and corrupt. A lot

of people condemned Braverman for her comments, and I’m glad they did, but one of the

troubles of her saying that was that it makes those who treat homeless people like dirt feel

justified because at least they’re not treating us quite so much like dirt as the politicians

running the country. They’re not that bad, so they must be okay. Micro-aggressions towards

homeless people surround us. I was in MacDonalds the other day where most people were

sitting there for hours and the manager came and kicked out a homeless person who was

sitting there quietly, just like the rest of us. But the rest of us weren’t kicked out. When you’re

homeless, it’s easy to become incredibly isolated until the only interactions you’re having are

with the state or people kicking you out of places. It destroys your soul as much as your

body. It’s been nearly two years since I was last homeless, but I’m not sure I’ve ever

recovered from it. It broke me in an infinite number of ways, some so subtle that I’m still

discovering them.

Homelessness is rising. Between April 2021 and March 2022, 278,110 households were

assessed to be homeless or about to be homeless by the Department for Levelling Up,

Housing and Communities. There are six homeless families for every one family in a newly

built social home in England in 2023. 104,510 households were living in temporary

accommodation in March 2023, including 65,000 households with children, which is an all-

time high. This is a bad enough state of the UK. But it gets worse. In November 2023, there

were 261,189 properties in England that had been empty for six or more months, which was

a 5% rise compared to the previous year and 16% rise since 2019, before the pandemic.

You could house every household in temporary accommodation more than twice over. You

could house nearly every household assessed to be, or about to be, homeless. As well as

the moral and ethical reasons to want to end homelessness, it would be cheaper to end

homelessness. The NHS spend around four times more on someone who is homeless,

compared to someone who isn’t, spending an estimated £4,298 per person annually on

healthcare for those facing homelessness. The cost of homelessness in the UK is

approximately £1 billion per year, or £30,000 per person. The first flat I moved into after

being homeless cost £1,000 per month for rent, bills and council tax. For the cost of each

homeless person, you could pay their rent and bills nearly three times over. That’s a pretty

sorry state of it.

I’ve been homeless three times in my life. It’s been two years since I was last homeless, but

I constantly feel like I’m not homeless at the moment, rather than that it’s over. I’m not

homeless, but that’s constantly caveated by that I’m not homeless now. Not currently, but it’s

always a silent threat looming over me. I used to tell my best friend that what I was most

afraid of was again. I’m terrified I’ll be homeless again. Homelessness is rising whilst

compassion isn’t. The cost of living, or rather the cost of greed, crisis puts those already

vulnerable more at risk. When I was homeless, I didn’t have any support to get out of it. I

still don’t have access to therapy. I went through this hugely traumatic thing that mostly goes

unacknowledged. I’ve lost friends before because they were too privileged and middle class

to even begin to understand the lingering trauma of what I’d been through. But I don’t want

to shy away from it as something I went through. When I was homeless, I was treated like

dirt. For some reason, that was deemed socially acceptable and I think part of that was that

people wanted to ‘other’ me. They wanted me to feel like being homeless was a personal

failing when, in fact, it’s a systematic failing that could happen to anyone.


Kerrie Portman is an autistic Care Experienced student at the University of Cambridge studying HSPS; Human, Social and Political Science. They've been homeless three times in my life; once as a teenager and twice as a Care Leaver. Being homeless prompted their interest in politics and advocacy, which has led to their writing on the issue, campaigning with charities such as Just For Kids Law and giving a speech in Parliament about Care Leaver homelessness.

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Hi Kerrie, I just wanted to say thank you for an incredibly thoughtful and heart-wrenchingly powerful piece of writing. I've been working in the 'field' of homelessness for too many years, and your experience, and the way you wrote about, knocked the stuffing out of me. Thank you, and the very best of luck with your studies, and with your advocacy!

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