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 thatĀ the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless attempted to define the term. They came up with theĀ 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.

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