I watched as a man cautiously approached the main desk in the lobby of the shelter. He had nothing with him, just his coat and a hat. As he went through the long list of questions with the receptionist before being admitted to stay the night, he struggled to answer basic questions. One particular question really embarrassed him; who is your emergency contact? The man quietly explained that he really didn't have anyone that he could give as a contact. After a pause, he tried to explain that he had worked his entire life, used to have friends and family and is currently living off his pension but his illness is getting in the way of him taking care of himself. The receptionist stopped him with kind words and assured him that it was fine he didn't have an emergency contact, he could still be admitted.
This made me think about that very morning where I myself had been asked to write down an emergency contact and the only reason it took me a second was because I had to decide who I wanted to write down; my parents, a friend or my husband. There was no embarrassment for me when asked that question, but this elderly man who had worked his whole life had to explain why he could not think of anyone. This moved me in a way I haven't experienced before.
London is trying very hard to adopt a 'housing first' strategy to eliminate the need for shelters and emergency housing. The belief is that homelessness is an issue that can be solved and that by equipping people to find affordable and sustainable housing, the need for shelters will decrease. It can be easy to think that if a city just has more shelters then there will be less people on the streets. But having more shelters is essentially just a band-aid, instead of preventing and decreasing homelessness. The Housing First strategy is in the process of being implemented in London with the final stages intending to be completed in the year 2024. An observation I have made in my very short time in the field is that agencies are collaborating in the implementation of this goal in a unique way. Every social service agency in London has a different vision of how to affect change for their specific population, but almost everyone is on board with a housing first philosophy in order to empower people in precarious housing or no housing to find stable affordable homes with assistance.
Read more about 'housing first'.