Steph Evans – What Is Homelessness?

Easter 1978
Paper
Courtesy of MT Gibson-Watt, Simon Community Archive
Photo: Richard Matthews

In 1978, a paste-up compiled by Steph Evans appeared in the ‘Simon Star’ newsletter with the title ‘what is homelessness’? On a single sheet, this re-produced piece offered 37 definitions about what homelessness is ranging from ‘humiliating’ to the more practical and well understood definitions of ‘being in a state without secure housing’.

This mix of opinion and fact was deliberate, in her definitions Steph sought to attack the inadequate protection offered to homeless people in the 1977 Housing Act. Her paste-up concludes with the question ‘How much more vulnerable must one be to be classed as ‘vulnerable’ within the meaning of the housing (homeless persons’) act of 1977.

How vulnerable would you have to be? If we were to follow Steph’s definitions homelessness could easily mean living from one day to the next or having no-one to talk to. If you scrutinise the definitions closely, the various descriptions begin to stop making sense. As you approach the final definitions homelessness is defined as a business, a profitmaker, a fire hazard and the penultimate ‘can seriously damage your life’.

It would be easy to write off this piece of writing as a just another attack on an entrenched establishment. Yet within the definitions there are some startling hidden truths that offer explanations as to why homelessness persists despite all efforts to wipe it out. Many of these are instantly recognisable but some definitions are more subversive, subjective and entirely one person’s opinion. Yet historically, they speak to realities that can’t be covered by law alone and continue to persist to this day.

The full list of definitions is as follows:

  • The state of being without secure housing
  • Not having a roof over your head
  • Not having a key to your own front door
  • If you are “covered” by the housing (Homeless Person) Act, 1977
  • If you don’t have a rent book
  • If you are going to lose your accommodation within 28 days
  • If you have to sleep rough
  • Stigmatizing
  • Isolating
  • The creation of a non-entity
  • Humiliating
  • Loveless
  • Being alone
  • Having no-one to talk to
  • Having no-one to listen to you
  • Dehumanizing
  • Illegal
  • Always your fault
  • Not having a voice
  • Not having an address
  • Not having a councillor
  • Not having an M.P
  • Not having a representative to speak for you
  • Unhealthy
  • Not having a doctor
  • Not having a dentist
  • Not having an optician
  • Being refused treatment/admission to hospitals
  • Being an ignored statistic
  • Living from one day to the next
  • A crime
  • A business
  • A growth industry
  • A profitmaker
  • A fire hazard
  • Can seriously damage your life
  • Is vulnerability
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