In the 5 years that I worked as a nurse with people who were experiencing homelessness, I met hundreds of individuals, but heard very few stories of recovery. This is not because people don’t find a way forward from an experience of homelessness, but more likely because many find this by moving away. All the time we would have individuals that we worked closely with just disappear, and we often never heard whether they were incarcerated, injured, moved away to a better situation, or simply moved on. Because relationships can be a large part of what is negative in people’s lives, and what keeps people back, at times severing these relationships is the way forward.
That is why I was so touched when I received an email from a young lady in a nearby city. She stated that she had been homeless and experiencing an addiction for many years in London, but was now in recovery and working in the social services elsewhere. We met for a coffee and she shared her ideas for giving back to London, and confronting some of the barriers that she faced in trying to recover here. It was very heartwarming to hear a story of things getting better, and hearing hope for others. It made me think back of many of the people I knew so well and wonder how they are doing today.
On a practical, policy side, this meeting made me reflect on the importance of spreading social housing throughout a city. If the first step out of homelessness involves keeping people in the midst of the community where they suffered, this can be a set back for many people. Instead, moving to another neighbourhood in the same city allows people to be close to friends and family, but away from the centre of their challenges, particularly in the case of addictions.