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We hear a lot about the need to keep warm and find something to eat. But how do you nourish your soul when you’re homeless, asks Mat Amp, who’s been there and done that.
When Robert Clarke, the American author of Mr White’s Confession, wrote: “Above all others I pity the homeless: where do they go to masturbate?” he made a very good point. To those of you who answer public toilets, I have one word: really? But most of you will take his central point: homeless people have no privacy. They have nowhere to shut themselves away from the world and the people who inhabit its bustling pavements, crowded subways and manic coffee shops.
When people talk about the hardship of surviving on the streets, they usually talk about the struggle for sustenance and warmth. Many write about the practicalities of getting through the day, but rarely do you read anything about how you sustain your soul and nourish your spirit. How do you keep yourself from going numb?
I know from harsh experience that the practicalities are vital. But what I’m looking at here is the other stuff; the way you make sense of it all and make sure you make it through in one piece.
There is an abundance of romance that runs like a train rail through the history of literature about homelessness. Although it’s a notion that predominantly comes from the USA, with the image of the hobo travelling the rails, unburdened by the practicalities of life and free from the material baggage of existence, it is one that has been imprinted on the British psyche.
I can’t pretend there is anything romantic about being prodded in the back by an officious security guard at seven in the morning, two hours after you got to sleep. But somehow, I found a kernel of truth in that romantic notion.
Contemporary English poet Munia Khan wrote: “Happiness lives in every corner of your home and if you are homeless, it lives under the leaves of trees, hiding beneath the sky’s cloudiness. All you need to do is to find it with patience.”
What I’d suggest, is that when you have no privacy, you have to find that space inside yourself. Political prisoners have echoed the sentiment over the years that while the body can be imprisoned and abused, salvation lies in the sanctity of the mind. ‘I think therefore I am’ some clever sod once said, and he wasn’t wrong.
Clouds have a silver lining. In the case of homelessness, it is the detachment from the humdrum everyday grind for existence that allows you to get a whole new perspective on life. There is freedom in the weightlessness, the not-existing with the rest. It’s a position that affords us insight.
The beauty and the truth of things is often in the spaces: the indefinable, the unobservable, in the stuff you can’t measure. Many people are too busy staring at the bleedin’ obvious to notice.
But is not about things that are fluffy and lovely. Homelessness doesn’t really allow for that. In my case, anger played a major part in my survival. John Lydon of the Sex Pistols coined the phrase ‘Anger is an Energy’. Channelled in the right way, it’s a powerful part of the self-preservation cocktail. You’re homeless, for fuck’s sake! You have the right to be angry. I just found that it was best if I combined that anger with some mindfulness, self-awareness and a serving of humour on the side.
I also took some practical steps. I found a spot I could return to that became a kind of home without doors, walls or furniture, and that gave me strength, a bit of continuity. I introduced a bit of structure to combat the chaos of addiction.
Peace, I found in the library where I could reflect, read and nourish the mind. My time there gave me space to think and to question everything. I’m a much better person for it.
Above all, remember that you have value as a human being that absolutely cannot be taken from you at any time by anyone.
If you start believing there might be something wrong with you because you are homeless, remember this: Adolf Hitler didn’t just have a home: he had an entire homeland and he was a turbo-charged arsehole from hell.
Having a home doesn’t make you a great person and, equally, you can be a great person without one.
I’m not going to lie: I found it hard when I was first on the streets, riddled with shame and self-hatred. I spent a few weeks living on a building site hiding from the world, but I couldn’t run away from myself, so it killed me inside.
I was 99 per cent numb, and getting myself back was like trying to light a fire in a sodden dark forest with a damp box of matches.
But I did find myself again.
Now I’m living in a one-bedroom flat now and I’m clean. I never want to be homeless again, but it gave me something and I like myself and my life more because of it.
Homelessness is part of your journey and you will get past it. You can dare to hope – just don’t burden it with expectation.
And keep reminding yourself that the inner fire still burns.
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