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When I got clean, I was in a particularly chaotic and violent hostel in Brixton that had been overrun by the KFC (KwickFriedCrack) gang, named for their base outside the local KFC.
At least, that was their base before someone gave them a set of keys to our front door in exchange for a few pipes, one of those magnificent examples of drugonomics that baffle people who spend their life doing good things for their future.
To most people, giving up your comfort, security and peace of mind for a few licks on a crack pipe seems utterly unfathomable. At the broken edge it isn’t even surprising.
But there’s another side. For a start, most hostels are way better than the one I ended up in. And most homeless people have a warmth that's the result of having to get along with others who have nothing. There is nothing to be jealous of, and aspiration often comes in the form of a Special Brew and a warm place to put your head for the night.
And so while there are bullies, psychopaths and juvenile egotists in every walk of life, homeless people more often than not look out for each other. It fosters an openness that is rare in modern urban life.
Along with this openness is an incredibly rich vein of creative talent. What is creativity if it isn’t experience conveyed with honesty?
You can look at homelessness as an insulated problem: somebody who is homeless just needs a home.
But although the current system fails to do even that, people are at least starting to embrace a more holistic approach, and the creative arts are a big part of that.
Becoming homeless is hard on us all. And this is where the creative process comes in. It releases endorphins in the same way that exercise does, relieving pain and boosting the immune system. Writing and exercise have been the two main pillars in my own recovery as I looked to kickstart the endorphins without the use of heroin.
The process of creativity allows us to focus, to let go of the everyday humdrum constraints of reality, and lose ourselves in our imagination. It sets the mind free and lets us breath. It brings peace from the chaos of a world of homeless hostels, or survival on the street. It gives us perspective.
Pablo Picasso hit the nail squarely on the head when he said: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” It’s a fitting metaphor for those of us who woke up this morning without a home.