what does ‘homeless’ actually mean?

Over the last couple of months I have been doing a lot of reading on this topic. I have talked to people who are homeless and I have been looking out for news, articles, people, art, etc. where a person who is ‘homelss’ could appear.

I have reflected a lot on my life and have fallen back into the trap I set myself when I was writting my BEd Dissertation (Effects of the TCK lifestyle and multilingualism on identity development)…the trap that made me question where my ‘home’ was. I realized I don’t have one. And when I say “I’m going home” I mean the place I am sleeping at tonight. At the moment it’s my flat in England, but when I was travelling across the Balkans just last month it was the hostel I was staying at. I remember myself saying to a fellow traveller: “It’s getting cold, I’m going to go home now.” He looked at me funny and I retorted with: “I mean…I’m going to the hostel now.”

I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels like this.

I have recently also joined a Facebook group for nomads, people who travel. These are some of the responses I got from people in the forum to the question of: What does it mean to be homeless?

A person who does not have a specific place to call “home”, but for which any place where they sleep for more than 1 night, can be refered to as “home”. For example: he/she stayes in a camping-site for 3 days, goes out exploring and at the end of a day he/she thinks: “I will go home, have some dinner and sleep”, even though in a few days “home” will be in a different.

Another respondent said something quite different:

no permanent place you can call home-be it any form of temporary accommodation

And a third respondent was very matter-of-fact about it:

Living without a permanent home and address.

It’s wonderful for me to see that different people have different perspectives on this topic. It’s also reassuring to see this, because politicians, academics and researchers themselves are not sure what the term “homeless” really means.

It was only in 2006 that the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless attempted to define the term. They came up with the European Typology on Homelessness and Housing Exclusion (ETHOS). It attempts to classify and confine people into boxes. The problem with this is, that the issue of homelessness is extremely complex (as can also be seen by the definitions of everyday-people above), and that people don’t like to be put into boxes; a term like “homeless” is extremely stigmatizing. Also, homelessness is not a rigid event. It’s a cycle, a malleable process, a journey. People tend to fall in and out of homelessness, or change between different types of homelessness. Their situation changes rapidly, sometimes too fast for classification.

On top of this, is a person seen as homeless if they utter words like these?

Without home son i don t feel like homeless everywhere ils my home

or

If I would have to call my self as homeless then it would just because I dont have permanent place to stay- I would always have place where to sleep(airoport, busstop, tent) so I cant be homeless …

or

Different meanings in different periods of life, but in this moment it means ”no home because of travel”, ”my home is where my backpack is”, ”the home is where wifi is” etc.

Are these people seen as homeless? Do they fit into one of the boxes? If I were to take a year off to travel, I would be classified as homeless…but do so many of the issues that many people who are homeless face affect me? Not necessarily.

Keep this in mind when you’re talking about people who are homeless. It’s not just those sitting on the side of the road. Yes, those are the most visible types of homeless, but there are many more. The people I quoted above are travellers, people without permanent addresses, but who choose to do what they do. People who believe what they are doing is great. And I would agree with them.

But there is yet another face of homelessness. Those living in temporary housing, couchsurfing with friends over extended periods of times, families living in B&Bs. These are not visible. They look like anybody else. They don’t sit on the street begging and they don’t carry their lives around in backpacks. Keep that in mind.

There is more to this problem than you might think.

My indifference towards music

I know so many people who are very particular about what they like and what they don’t like about music; people who have certain music they listen to when they’re doing homework or writing, doing sports or walking down the street; people who say music saved their life or who look up to some musicians as if they are demi-gods.

OF course, there are some types of music I enjoy more than others, but since my I-only-listen-to-bands-nobody-knows-phase, music has gotten less and less important to me. I haven’t updated or used my ipod in a really, really long time. I take it with e when I travel with all intentions of listening to music, only to not touch it for the entire trip.

There is something so soothing in listening to the white noise that is part of daily life. I enjoy the silence created by the buzzing of the computer, refrigerator, car or plane. The (often strange) music that comes out of public radios or bus playlists. It’s all part of the experience of the journey, and of life. I feel like I am more connected to the journey, to myself, when I take in the sounds that surround me. I am more alert, or more relaxed, depending on my mood.

I think this practice may be the reason why I have become so tolerant of different music styles and genres. I remember the days when anything that wasn’t alternative power punk pop was horribly and painful to my years…how silly I was back then.

I think not listening to my ipod every second of every day makes me see the world differently. It forces me to pay attention to the nature and people around me. To communicate with them silently and to e an active part of the world.

Why I travel alone

There are two answers to this…a short and practical one, and a long one with more substance to it.

The short and practical answer is very simple: I don’t have any close friends tat want to travel to the places I want to travel to whose schedules are similar to mine.

Having said that, this does not bother me one bit. In fact, I prefer travelling by myself anyway.

I’m going to give you a few reasons as to why travelling alone is great, and why I keep doing it.

FREEDOM

I do not have to consult with anyone about the when, where and hows of travelling. At the chance of sounding extremely selfish, I am going to say that I travel alone so I don’t have to compromise the strange things that I find important.

FLEXIBILITY

Although I sometimes play my trips in quite a bit of detail (even though the plan never seems to work out anyway), and with months (or in the case of Nepal years) of research and preparation, some of my trips are very unplanned and can be decided upon on a hunch at very short notice. If I’m alone I don’t have to try to fit everything into hte schedules of other people.

Mine is complicated enough as it is anyway.

Travelling alone also gives me flexibility in where I go, what route I take, the speed of the trip and what I focus on.

SILENCE

I very much enjoy human company, conversation and listening to stories, but one thing I need in my life is time to be alone; time of silence. I like to lay in my bed and read, I like to let my thoughts wander and I like to have stretches of quiet. This is a lot easier to achieve when you don’t have a friend with you when travelling.

Now you might think that these times happen very often when you travel alone, or that I am just writing this to sound like I enjoy being alone because I have to travel alone because I have no friends and am ultimately just a sad and lonely person…but I am not. And this brings my to my next point.

COMPANIONSHIP

Although I just wrote about how much I enjoy travelling alone, I really do enjoy travel company at times. You meet such interesting, diverse and friendly people in hostels. A good conversation, or a bus companion is usually not far away if you are looking for one.

If I am travelling alone, this new friend doesn’t have to be approved of by my companions, the changes in the itinerary that may happen because I want to adjust my journey to spend more time with the new companion don’t have to be discussed with anyone else…this goes back to the freedom and flexibility points.

PERSONAL INTERESTS

I have a very strange way of travelling to new places. I like to get lost in new places…without a map. I like to walk quickly, and I like street food. I take pictures of the graffiti next to the amazing landmark before I even see the church, mosque or statue.

I want to take this opportunity to openly apologize to anyone I might have annoyed with my silly little habits when traveling. I would also like to take this opportunity to say thank you to anyone and everyone who has spent time with me, who has helped me find hostels or certain places, who told me their stories or just gave me a smile.

The tricks of thieves

As part of my research I talked a lot about begging and stealing. At certain points I either asked, or was simply told about the different tricks some of the people use to get things out of you.

Here are some tips to keep your valuables safe when on the road

  1. Always keep your valuables on inside pockets of jackets. Never keep anything in jeans, dress, shirt or jacket pockets that are on the outside.
  2. Don’t put anything of value into pockets on the outside that you think are secure because they have zippers. People have razorblades to cut open zippers.
  3. Keep your wallet, phone, camera on the bottom of the middle pocket of your bag. Don’t keep them in those small pockets designed to keep those things safe.
  4. When you are talking to someone you don’t know, don’ look them in the eyes all the time. Make sure you keep an eye out for their hands.
  5. Keep away from groups of people who want to help you or talk to you. If you are talking to one of them, the others might seize the opportunity

Obviously, these are just tips that came up when talking to people who have made a living out of stealing. You always need to be your own judge of different situations. Just keep in mind that it is often only opportunity that makes a thief. As long as you are on a look-out for your valuables at all times, and look like you are somewhere with a purpose, you should be fine.