GG reflects on reconnecting with herself and finding happiness again, and overcoming the dehumanisation of a system that only defines people by their problems and challenges, rather than seeing their achievements, good things and unique experiences.
I wanted to talk about a follow up to my piece on libraries, and I heard that it got some good responses from lots of different people. And people said lots of different parts of the story resonated with them. And these were people who don’t necessarily have homelessness experience. And I was thinking maybe it’s because I talked about my humanity, I talked about how I breastfed my children in libraries and changed nappies. I talked about how I’ve gone to use the internet. I talked about how I’ve got books for the art class I’m teaching. I talked about how I went in there to soothe my mental health. And all of those are different examples of all the different characters I play.
I’ve been a wife, I am a mother, I am a lover, I’m an artist, I’ve been homeless, I’ve got mental illness, and I’m first – and always – a woman.
And I think when we talk about homelessness it really is often the idea of people being dehumanised. When people are so caught up with different systems – they might be dealing with the police, they might be dealing with the housing office, they might be dealing with the hospital, they might be dealing with relative and family trouble, they might be dealing with drug problems, they might be dealing with mental health.
Most homeless people – and even people like myself with lived experience of homelessness – have got quite a lot of different things going on at the same time. And the systems that are set up to help you, the bureaucracies, are very dehumanising.
You become ‘x’ in a report and you’re not referred to by your name, and none of the good things you’ve ever done in your life, none of your achievements are mentioned.
I, myself, have experience of problems with my children, I’ve gone through court cases, and social services. And they wrote so, so many reports about me, page after page after page. I had one brilliant health visitor who really really fought my corner, and really was defending me. And she pointed out something in a meeting one day. She said, this woman has got a degree in Fine Art, but nowhere does it mention that.
And I sort of thought about it, and she said to me, that is a big part of me. I studied for 4 years back in the day when university was free – that’s how old I am, and that’s how I could study art – and the reports, the things written about me were not anything about me, as a person, as a woman, the artist. They were about me, the woman surrounded by violence and mental health problems.
That’s all I was, I was only my problems. I was nothing else.
So, what I’m going to ask all of you to do – whether you are someone with lived experience, whether you’re supporting people with homelessness right now, or whether you’re just doing your thing in life, whatever it is. Please – if you talk to people, get to know them – find out all the positive things about them, find out about their achievements, find out about their unique experiences, find out about what is their favourite food, and what is their favourite film. What are the things they love? What are the things that bring them joy?
Because for me, part of the journey of coming back to me, was getting back into the joy in my life. Allowing myself happiness and good things, and appreciating beauty in life and connecting with who I was. Because there are very few people in the world who’s life has always been problems, who’s life has always been heartache.
Try to connect back to that person. That woman. That child. That friend. That lover. That artist.
And let them come alive, and the fire burn again.