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Q. Can you tell us a bit about your own experience on the streets?
I was on the streets for a number of years, mostly in my late teens. It was difficult, as I was so young at the time, and it was probably one of the most traumatic and terrifying experiences of my life. I still carry that trauma with me. I used to go the Homeless Person’s Unit every morning and they used to tell me: “You are not vulnerable enough. You are not in priority need”. I was a young girl sleeping on my own in a doorway – it is so hard to comprehend how that wasn’t seen as “vulnerable enough”. It’s the same thing I’ve heard over and over again doing this project: that (especially) single people on the streets are not deemed vulnerable enough for housing. I feel very lucky to have a council flat now, but the journey there was extremely traumatic.
Q. How did you get the idea for the work? How did it get started?
The initial idea was a photography project where I took photos of the doorways where I used to sleep rough or sell the Big Issue, and it told the stories of those doorways.
I wanted to tell not just my own story, but to speak to people living on the streets and find out what their experiences have been.
Q. How would you describe it to someone who has never seen it?
I would describe it as a sound installation in doorways which could have been a sleeping space (but weren’t someone’s actual sleeping space – I didn’t want to displace anyone). In each doorway is a small speaker that tells an individual’s story of homelessness. It’s as though you are having an intimate conversation with them. In each city the piece has toured [Brighton, Liverpool, London, Glasgow and Edinburgh], the project has included local people sleeping rough. The idea is to catch an accidental audience of people walking by rather than just having an “art audience”. I wanted to reach people who know nothing about the work, and are hopefully drawn in to listen.
Q. In what ways are homeless people made invisible?
Almost everyone I spoke to as part of the project, talked about a feeling of invisibility. When you are homeless, there is such a strong feeling of being ignored, looked down upon and treated as if you don't exist. I remember when I was on the streets, I used to play a game where I would ask people the time. Nobody would stop and tell me what the time was, as they assumed I was asking for money. I was spat on, pissed on, abused in so many ways… Almost everyone I spoke to on the street talked about how every day on the streets is just a survival because of how dangerous it can be.
Q. Why do you want the public to listen to these stories?
The Doorways Project is direct and unsentimental, and some of the stories that people have shared are challenging and uncomfortable to listen to. It’s important to me that these voices are shared. I wanted to tell the side of the story that is rarely understood unless people have been there themselves. People can imagine the multitude of reasons why someone might end up homeless, but very few people understand the day-to-day experience. I’m hoping that by listening to individual stories about life on the streets, people may be a bit kinder or have more compassion towards the homeless people they walk past.
Q. You want to make sure homeless people are not blamed for their situation. Tell us more.
There is a narrative about homelessness that is often around stigma and blame. It suggests that people choose to be on the streets, and scaremongers about not giving out handouts, sleeping bags or food as it encourages homelessness. Many UK cities now see rough sleeping as an anti-social behaviour for which people can be fined.
The idea that you can give someone a sleeping bag and that encourages homelessness really frustrates me, because it’s a message some of the big charities are giving out as well. But that sleeping bag could keep someone alive for the night and stop them dying from hypothermia. A few kind words and a sandwich can make an intolerable day a bit more bearable. So the messages that are being given about handouts encouraging street living are really dangerous.
Find out more: www.facebook.com/TheDoorwaysProject