MARINA SCHOLTZ speaks to Eye Want Change judge, journalist, activist, and documentary film-maker Daisy-May Hudson.
Homelessness is an ugly word. It is a social issue that everyone comes into contact with, but all too often regarded with almost aesthetic distaste. Our response to homelessness is often removed and abstract – rarely do we ‘give change’ to it, let alone think about the ways in which we may be part of this problem. For most of us the difficulties of being without a home are so uncomfortable to comprehend that we simply choose not to. I interviewed activist Daisy May Hudson about her experiences of being homeless. Hudson’s brand of activism is forthright and head-on. Daisy May Hudson is angry – with good reason.
Hudson’s family was made homeless in 2013 while she was completing her last year of English and Drama at Manchester University. The family’s landlord decided to sell the property her family was renting, forcing them to find somewhere new to live. Hudson returned to London in the middle of writing her third year dissertation to help her mother house-hunt, but, unable to afford rising rents and deposits in London, the family were forced to appeal to their local council for help with finding somewhere to live. The ease with which Hudson’s family were made homeless came as a shock to me. Put simply: ‘It is very easy, people don’t realise how close they are to the issue, a sudden illness, divorce, or the loss of a job can all lead to homelessness. It is these sudden events that push families near the poverty line into a position where they are no longer able to afford their home. If a family is earning just enough money to provide for themselves on a basic level, then putting down a deposit on a new home is unthinkable.’
It was her mention of divorce as a possible cause of homelessness that I found particularly disturbing. If a person’s name does not appear on the mortgage of her marital home, they have no legal right to it. Too often is the case that women, often with children in tow, who are going through a difficult divorce end up homeless as a single mother. Young people without savings, unless supported by their parents, are also ‘often forced to declare themselves homeless’. These groups are, understandably, given priority access to shelters; though this comes at the cost of single men who are more likely to end up sleeping rough. It is important to remember that all these demographics are part of the larger problem that is homelessness, even if they vary in their visibility. Hudson describes emergency housing in Britain as being ‘at breaking point’, why is why allocation necessarily takes place on a ‘gendered basis’. This is a compromise that we, as a society, cannot afford. As Hudson puts it, ‘it is sad that homelessness charities struggle to find funding’, even with heavy reliance on charities and NGOs.
Asking Hudson how successful she considered the current government’s approach to the ‘breaking point’ in housing we discussed, she replied frankly and automatically: ‘Oh my God, it is fucking awful, not one single good thing has come out of it, and everything that they do [in relation to homelessness] is to the detriment of working class people and marginalised groups – those without a positive voice’. The debate about homelessness is overshadowed by the voices of those who have never experienced it, primarily those in the government and media. This accounts for the difference between the rhetoric surrounding homelessness and its reality. Hudson maintains that council housing is ideologically out of keeping with recent Conservative values, which are inherently ‘anti-benefit and anti-working class’. Hudson sees council housing as a ‘safety net’, put in place for the support of those she identifies as being ‘without a positive voice’. The noxious idea of parasitic benefits claimants must be put in perspective: ‘obviously a very small percentage of claimants actually commit benefit fraud, and yet there seems to be an overriding assumption that all housing and benefits claimants are robbing the system in some way’.
This stigma against all kinds of benefit claimants is extremely detrimental, and only exacerbated in the case of homelessness, as it entails an even more indispensable reliance on the state. Hudson described having to ‘renegotiate’ what the term homelessness meant to her after feeling this anti-claimants stigma being applied to her. It is clear how difficult it can be to find the ‘positive voice’ Daisy identifies: ‘Homelessness can feel like a very personal trauma. I found it hard to discuss it with my friends who were not homeless’. Obviously the stigma against those without a home is not only a result of the Conservative rhetoric that Hudson has identified; it pervades the public consciousness from a young age. When Daisy was at school she and her classmates referred to children living in the local homeless shelter ‘Norway House’ as carrying ‘germs’; her younger sister ‘didn’t feel she could tell anyone at her school that she was homeless’. Nonetheless, when faced with this situation Hudson decided to make her experience public through journalism and by directing and filming documentary ‘Half Way’. This act of unflinchingly documenting her experience is a powerful response given the lack of first person narratives of homeless in the public arena; an imbalance that the Guardian’s recent live feed project entitled ‘One night on the streets‘ is also geared towards addressing. Hopefully, Hudson’s refusal to be silent will help open up this discussion and continue to make room for the voices of others who have been in this situation to be heard.
Talking to Hudson gave me a sense of perspective that has seemed entirely absent from the homelessness debate. She explained how government schemes that allow families to buy their council homes are problematic. Council houses are bought up by landlords and then rented at private rates; this furthers gentrification and excludes those who really need council housing from being able to afford it. My own (extortionately expensive) student flat is an ex-council house, and my interview with Daisy May Hudson really put my and my flat-mates’ moaning discussions about rent into context. I was forced to consider that I am part of the housing problem; my demographic and I contribute to the property market that furthers the exclusion of low-income families from the homes that many so desperately need.
Daisy’s story highlights that we urgently need to eradicate the idea that being homeless (or claiming benefits) is a person’s fault. We need to get rid of the culture of ‘us and them’, and realise that we are all implicated. The divisive words of some parts of the media and government need to be countered with positive, genuine accounts from those who have personal experience without a home. Daisy May Hudson’s documentary and journalism do that, with astonishing impact and insight.
Daisy May Hudson is currently in discussion about the distribution of ‘Half Way’, we will keep SAVAGE readers posted. Watch this space.
Vote in Eye Want Change’s smartphone film competition here until the end of Friday 11 March.