Why Homeless is a good word
After a very long flight back from Rio, I have finally arrived home in Edinburgh. I am a little weary but the memories of the previous ten days at the Homeless World Cup are still really vivid in my mind. Like many others, I feel inspired and I will be back at my desk tomorrow morning to start the planning process for next year's event in Paris.
I was thinking of the word "home" on the way back. If I was to say "home" to you, what images does it conjure up?
Tricia Hughes who was the co-founder of the Big Issue in Scotland with me way back in 1993, used this question when she was giving or talks or organising workshops, particularly with school children. When she asked children to come up with some words which they associated with "home" the children would say things like: warm fireside; brothers and sisters; love; family dinners; a welcoming dog; my colourful bedroom; Mum reading stories; birthday parties; watching television with everyone and so on. Very rarely was the word "house" ever mentioned.
So, when you think of someone who is homeless, you should think of them as being without all of these things: without family dinners; without birthday parties; without Mum reading stories. Homeless is not houselessness. It is something much deeper and much more profound. That's why I like the word because it describes much more accurately, the really significant level of exclusion homeless people find themselves in. Of course, having bricks and mortar around you and a roof over your head are vital, but being without the real definition of "home", means you are deprived of much, much more.
Some years back, I asked a politician about solutions to homelessness and he replied: simple - build more houses. He is right to a degree but he misses the point entirely. A primary school child would have given a better answer. Politicians often only see challenges or problems as a line of statistics. They are not really connected to the deeper social issues which currently challenge our communities.
In Brazil, it is fascinating to learn that the Brazilian government and many of its population won't use the word homeless. They say that there is no direct translation. They are in some sort of denial. The implication of their thoughts is if there is no word to describe it, then it doesn't exist. But there are thousands of homeless people in Brazil. Interestingly, Brazilian journalists who were covering the Homeless World Cup extensively in Rio last week, started using a direct translation of the word and making comment on the whole social issue.
The Brazilian government claims to be making inroads into tackling poverty in its country and led by President Lula they certainly have clear policies. Maybe the success of Homeless World Cup in Rio last week has helped raise this issue in a constructive way. Brazil needs to understand that it is not alone when it comes to increasing numbers of homeless people within its borders because this is now happening in every country in the world.
Brazil needs to admit that it has a problem; understand that it is not alone and therefore should stop trying to hide the issue; embrace the challenge and come up with solutions.
Tonight many people will have gone home and will experience everything that means. Millions around the world will not. We need to wake up to this fact and begin to create doors and pathways so that those millions can feel the experience of "home", just as we are doing.
This article was posted on Mel Young's official blog.