Dominique De-Light

Roofless Extract © Dominique De-Light 2007

The pen is mightier than the sword. The computer is greater than the gun. I am a writer who believes in the power of words. The power to change minds, ideas and world politics. I run writing groups to enable people - usually homeless, mentally ill, ex-prisoners and those with drug and alcohol problems - to express themselves. To find their voice through the written word. To process demons and find angels.

 

Every one of us wants to be heard. Every one wants respect and many these days want fame. But what is fame except the search for recognition? In this increasingly individualistic world where we communicate via text on a computer or mobile screen, fame is increasingly sought as a way to acknowledge our individuality, our specialness.

 

The written world unleashes our individuality. It gives us a voice. A means to make our mark on the world. Who needs fame when you can have a blog? Writing can process anger, record happiness, be a personal therapist, a creative muse, a life saver.

 

This blog is a record of discussions held in the Write for Life course at QueenSpark Books � a writing group for homeless and ex homeless writers. Everything that is written here has been approved by them. It is a record of how words have the power to change lives.


In this group of homeless or ex homeless writers everyone talked of respect, caring for others and trying to minimize harm. It is a bitter irony that society often treats these people with the very opposite - no respect, little care and as a result does much damage to individuals who have already been through life's mill. Homeless people are demonised, stigmatised and seen as the bottom of the social heap, maybe if they were treated with a little more respect and a lot more humanity, society would be half way to solving the problem of people living on the street.

 

Research has shown that writing can help your mental health. Writing about trauma can strengthen your immune system, reduce visits to the doctor and provide you with your own personal therapy. So, for all the health problems these writers have been through, they have all got the tools to heal themselves: a pen and paper. The ability to express oneself is a life saving tool. And as one writer said, "by sharing work and getting feedback from those who understand, my health is improving." Which gives the course title 'Write for Life' a whole different slant.


The following is taken from a blog I wrote whilst I was facilitator of the Write for Life group.  I have done my best to accurately reflect the views of all the participants. All text in italics is direct quotation from group members.

The

    Write For Life

                      Group

 

No privacy, no place of safety, no roof - homeless.

Drug addicts, no hopers, alcoholics, buskers, dirty,

squatters, worthless, free loaders, beggars, illiterates.

They are powerless.

They are ruled by the whims of others.

They trust no one.

They are demonised and stereotyped by the media.

They have all lost something � whether it is a job, a  family or a lover.

They are grieving.

Addicted to drugs, alcohol or shop lifting.

Suffering from poor health � whether from sleeping rough or through grief.

Dirty. Always dirty. That�s what forces you to use the services, the need to be clean.

 

There are many in the group who feel they have been one or all of those things at some time, but it didn't explain the people sitting in front of me. I asked for some positives

free spirits, creative and survivalists.

 

Writing helps - it gives people a chance to explore their experiences and balance the unique, the individual, against the stereotype; the reality behind the assumptions.

Is there a

homeless community?

 

Community evolves, no amount of good intentions can bring it into existence and it isn�t something that can be created by the services. Homeless people meet when they attend Day Centres or use other services, but there are no such things as a �First Base Crowd� or the �Addaction folk.� People go to the services for what they can offer. If they didn�t need them, they wouldn�t go. And then there are always the self-excluders � those who trust no-one, who don�t want to engage with others, whether peers or professionals.  

The homeless are a community of people that are all out for themselves.

This may seem cynical, but it could also be said of society as a whole. One writer countered that selfishness is not a defining quality of the homeless community. In his case, without the support of other homeless people, people who had given him food, clothes, even drugs, he would never have survived the streets.

Homeless people help each other

- though that help, as in the gift of the one drink that tips you over the edge, can end up being destructive.

The writers agreed that, whilst there is no happy family of homeless folk, there are times, especially amongst the  many small groups created by shared experiences, sofa surfing, drugs of choice, when homeless people do work as a true community.


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