Published on February 17, 2014 | by Karma Symington0
Half Way: Challenging stereotypes of the homelessDrug addict, alcoholic, vagrant, good for nothing – These are all words that are used on a daily basis to describe the homeless.
Freedom of speech allows us to vehemently spout labels and words easily, with little or no understanding of the consequences.
Yes, the homeless person you see may well be an alcoholic, but he just as easily might not be. We don’t know his story, nor have we tried to understand it.
Rather, we as a society are blinded by our own misconceptions and lack of humility toward a stranger’s experience.
Daisy-May Hudson, 23, from London, is homeless along with her mum and her younger sister who is only 14.
The experience is one that has inspired her to create a documentary, Half Way, chronicling the experience from the day she and her family had to leave their home of 13 years, up until the moment they are re-homed.
Their story is a counter argument to the many stereotypes that homeless people face: “The whole reason I am making this documentary is to counter the public perception of people on benefits and social housing. Channel 4 has started this epidemic of doing really subjective, shit documentaries like Benefits Street. It perpetuates this perception that people that are on benefits are scroungers. My mum was on benefits but she isn’t anymore, she works,” Hudson explains, clearly agitated at the image the programme projects.
After living in their family home for 13 years, which was owned by the supermarket chain Tesco and privately rented by Hudson’s mother, they were informed last year that their home was being turned into a car park.
“We were told we had three months to leave. By the time we started looking for a new place to rent, the rent had increased so much in the space of 13 years that my mum just literally couldn’t afford to privately rent anywhere else. This was in June 2013,” she said.
The harsh reality of having your home taken away from you is one that is met with difficulty.
According to a report by the Office for National Statistics, a property rented for £500 a month in May 2012 would be rented for £506.50 a year later in May 2013.
Whilst it may seem a modest amount, figures show that rent in England has increased in cost by 2.8 per cent since 2011, compared with 2.2 per cent in Scotland and 2.3 per cent in Wales.
Channel 4 has started this epidemic of doing really subjective, shit documentaries like Benefits Street. It perpetuates this perception that people that are on benefits are scroungers. Daisy-May Hudson
Passionate and devoted to promoting Half Way, Hudson explains that the documentary’s title was chosen to “represent the feeling of being in the middle and not knowing when we are going to be housed. It is the feeling of being in limbo, as we are constantly waiting.”
Hudson graduated from Manchester University with a first class degree in English Literature and Drama Studies in the summer of 2013.
“I actually got the highest in my year,” she states, confident yet still incredibly reticent and modest.
Using a camera she received for her 21st birthday, before she was made homeless, she took the opportunity to record her family’s journey.
The personal and sensitive nature of the story is not something all would be willing to share, yet Hudson was resolute that she wanted to challenge the set of preconceived ideals that awaits families like hers and many others.
It started as a personal documentary, but after experiencing what she felt was a complete “lack of respect from those at the council,” it transformed from a personal documentary into a public one: “I never set out to demonise the council or attack the system, it was more like an ethnographic portrait of what it feels like to go through these scenarios, and I wanted it to be very human and personal.”
Yet, as Hudson’s journey moved forward, the reality of the situation and the treatment she received evolved the documentary’s making.
“After going through this whole process I’m just angry. Every person I have met that is going through the same situation as me is just a really lovely, normal person who has got into a bad situation. They aren’t horrible people and they aren’t scroungers. One of them is studying to be a nurse. So now the documentary has become broader and shows how the system has lost all compassion for human needs and decency,” she said.
HonestThe number of homeless people in the UK has increased for three consecutive years, partly because of housing shortages and cuts to benefits, with an estimated 185,000 people a year now affected in England alone.
Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Crisis found that almost one in 10 people experience homelessness at some point in their life, with one in 50 experiencing it in the last five years.
One of the more common reasons for homelessness is that many people, like Hudson’s mother, cannot find affordable, alternative accommodation when their private tenancies come to an end.
Fiercely honest, Hudson recounts the moment when they first moved: “We literally turned up at the council with all of our bags. The first hostel we stayed in we shared a bathroom and a kitchen with another family who obviously we did not know.”
She also explains having to get used to being under a ‘Big Brother-type’ surveillance: “There are CCTV cameras everywhere and you have to sign in and out.”
Ambitious Hudson describes a usual day: “I leave at about 6am as it takes me an hour or so to get to work, and then I go to a cafe and do some writing and editing for Half Way before I start work at 10.”
She seems calm and controlled when discussing the ordeal and it is no surprise when she explains she is a form of support for her mum, who she describes as a “super strong” woman who “doesn’t want to be seen as a victim.”
“People can do anything to you – they can put you in a horrible scenario – but they can’t change the person that you are. We get through it by knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel.” Daisy-May Hudson
After being homeless for six months – which is what the council specify is the waiting period – they were offered a property on a council estate, which they refused to accept and appealed against the offer: “With a 14 year old and a stabbing on the estate it didn’t seem appropriate, and when my mum complained to the council the lady replied with the fact that you can get stabbed anywhere.”
The little things that we don’t acknowledge or maybe even appreciate at the time, such as rubbish collection, might be the things we unknowingly value most.
Hudson recalls that when she and her family lived in the hostel, the rubbish wasn’t collected for two months and, instead of being delivered through a letterbox, post had to be collected between 9am-6pm, which are working hours.
Homelessness isn’t a disease; it’s an unfortunate way of life that anyone can be affected by. Your teacher, doctor, dentist or best friend might at one point face the prospect of living without a home.
Even ‘care-free’ students are at risk of being homeless. Last term, UAL’s Student Union protested against the extortionate rents students face in London; a situation that has left some students literally homeless.
Hudson concludes: “It is a slippery slope, and it has shown me that it is so easy to become homeless. But what my mum always says is that people can do anything to you – they can put you in a horrible scenario – but they can’t change the person that you are. We get through it by knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”