Why The Individualist Mindset Fails Homeless People

Featured image description: White text on a pink background that says: “Why the Individualist Mindset Fails Homeless People”. On the right is the a logo for the blog, ”Trans Autistic Feminist” (a gold neurodiversity helix on a black trans symbol) with the blog name in purple.

CW mentions of various kinds of bigotry, abuse, death, government abuse, suicide, alcohol mention

Hi all, 

Recently I had a conversation with a friend about my ongoing situation. One of the things she said to me was along the line of “see Milla, this is why the neoliberal idea of individual responsibility [aka the individualist mindset] mostly doesn’t align with human psychology.” Despite not knowing much about psychology, it resonated a lot with me as this was something I realised was the case with me.

What is individual responsibility? 

In a nutshell, it’s basically the idea every person has responsibility for themselves. If they want to get somewhere, they have to work hard for it, and they will get there. In other words, the more somebody works to achieve their goals, the more successful they are in theory. They will have more money and more success as everybody has equal opportunities. It doesn’t work like that in reality as it ignores how bigotry and stereotypes harm marginalised people, likewise how capitalism is not fair to anyone without money. 

It also ignores an essential aspect of human diversity. Some people simply do need help to achieve things, no matter how responsible they are or how much initiative they take. Humans are more interdependent on each other than autonomous beings, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It ignores the fact some humans initially need help to do things that they can do more autonomously in the long run. This is also a key belief that is part of the disability rights movement.

Applying this to homelessness

An excellent example of this is homelessness, which is one of the many tricky situations where “individual responsibility” will not help people resolve them.

Homeless people are often scared and traumatised and also do not have the money or connections to house themselves. Many of them are also more likely to be marginalised such as being disabled, LGBTQ+ or addicted to drugs/alcohol. All of these are structural issues that cannot be solved simply by individuals making decisions. They can only be solved through government policy and accurate knowledge that is passed down through training. 

This reality contradicts the predominant messaging that says people need to take individual responsibility, Hence. What this message actually is saying is that systematic issues are not something that governments and broader society want or should take responsibility for. 

Individual responsibility will not stop autistic meltdowns, which are caused by the environment around an autistic person that they cannot control. This lack of understanding by providers is something that makes many services dangerous for autistic people, including homeless accommodation.

Individual responsibility won’t stop the fact that even if people try their best to save money, they are still being underpaid, to begin with. Hence, they may have to resort to things like sex work, moonlighting and petty theft just to survive.

Individual responsibility will not stop the overwhelming urges to continue dangerous habits due to the cycle of dependency and the lack of access to support to recover.

Individual responsibility will not prevent the various kinds of bigotry that makes people homeless.

Here is a very blunt meme to set the scene for what I’m about to say next: 

Personal experience

As somebody who has been failed due to this mindset for many months, it upsets me how much this mindset is rampant in services and government. I tried very fucking hard to get housed and was autonomous as much as possible, and it would never be enough.  I know first hand this mindset does not help.

  • I pre-emptively reached out to a lot of support in good faith and expected to eventually get what I needed. 
  • I pushed my limits as an autistic person by working full time and commuting for hours a day, which was unsustainable but was only done due to the deteriorating situation. 
  • I fled for my life from a familiar, yet unsafe environment with no plan aside from a place to sleep that night because time ran out.
  • I persisted chasing up people (who didn’t actually care for my wellbeing) as best as I can. 
  • I continued dealing with toxic people who I used to trust because I left them with no warning, and they still had most of my belongings. 
  • I repeatedly got the police off my back because I didn’t trust them period – even when free legal advice was offered. 
  • I dealt with identifying burnout and trauma triggers and began to learn coping mechanisms to not harm those around me, as l began to come to terms with 20 plus years of childhood abuse. 

Most importantly, I fled up north to an entirely new area because I was failed so badly by services down south.  This was because I realised I was not going to get help because people assumed:

  • I could get housed myself at the age of 23
  • I had friends and family I could move in with
  • could process lots of resources and act on them despite being in a state of trauma which makes processing info impossible
  • It was OK to gatekeep me for any reason, as due to being disabled I’d be more likely to give up
  • They were ok with my trauma being prolonged as they didn’t care for my welfare as they weren’t responsible for it (even if it was fatal).
  • They were just outright prejudiced against disabled and/or transgender people.

The silver lining

On the bright side, I’ve grown so much from my experiences and shattered my own expectations. I lived like somebody my age (minus the homelessness) for the first time in my life. I lived as myself. I’ve transitioned as much as I can. I’ve found somewhere I can call home until it’s time for me to emigrate off this island. I’m able to reach out into the community.

However, I shouldn’t have had to do it in such awful circumstances and worsened by services to the point where my trust for services has been completely destroyed. The cliff edge between education and work is real for any disabled person. Still, for me, it was unnecessarily steep to the point where my trust in services has been destroyed. I won’t reach out for help going forward if I don’t have to.

With all the above said, please bear it in mind I address how this mindset from services leads to harm.

How individualism affects the operation of services

Services that are driven an individualist approach that is not fit for purpose, and other related ideas, namely that:

  • Somebody who doesn’t accept whatever is offered or get on their knees and begs for it (literally and metaphorically) is not trying hard enough
  • Service users are meant to keep going around and asking people to help until somebody agrees to help or wait several times.
  • People should tell their life story to each service they engage for the chance that they may offer help. In reality, they’ll often reject people for no good reason and never deal with them again.

I elaborated on the above points in more details in this article.

All of this sustained, relentless trauma would be hard for any survivor. However, for multiply marginalised survivors, it is even more challenging to deal with. It stops people reaching out for help which is often the only option left to protect their mental health. That’s not refusing to take responsibility for their life, that’s protecting themselves from further harm – there is a huge difference.

However, as these services are influenced by the individualist mindset, they would blame the service users (usually partially, but often entirely). “She stopped contacting us? Guess she didn’t need us after all LOL,” they say, not acknowledging that they ejected her in the first place with no chance of appeal. Or, “guess he’s finally taken responsibility for himself, glad he is off our list” when he managed to learn coping mechanisms for himself that may or may not be healthy, such as drinking alcohol daily.

Alternatively, the most dismissive prospective is “the fact they’ve stopped reaching out means they obviously didn’t try hard enough, and thus doesn’t deserve our support AHAHAHAHAHA.” When in reality, people who disengage from shitty services are taking individual responsibility for their welfare because these services have no interest in doing so.

Or, to take the good faith approach for the sake of balance, they are so overworked they lose track of their clients or can’t allocate support for everyone. That said, even when there are funding constraints, bigoty and individualism persist.

Services are meant to help people. And that requires a collectivist mindset, which is the precise opposite of what services provide. It is only now I can get support from LGBTQ+ oriented services regarding both housing and employment. The collectivist support prior to this came from people who knew me personally, such as those who offered me a place to stay, for example. In other words – socialism. 

Individualism in a wider UK political context

I’ve had lots of thoughts about social class in the UK, which I will ramble about at length in another post. Still, a key point relevant to this is that the individual responsibility mindset means that solidarity in the UK doesn’t exist on a societal level. Services and authorities don’t consider it on a massive scale, and even if they did, the funding just isn’t there nor accurate understanding of service users. People are being sent on their way to deal with their problems themselves with no regard for the consequences. For many of the most vulnerable and marginalised people, this is a death sentence. 

For the majority of people in England primarily, they are complicit in the state-sanctioned murder of marginalised people (whom die largely due to mistreatment by services from all sectors). Even if they say otherwise, that’s what their actions show. Their actions are rooted in political apathy (or if they aren’t apathetic, they support the pushers of this mindset – Blairites, Starmites, centrists, conservatives and fascists). Both apathy and political participation from these people embody the individual responsibility mindset.

Much of this is due to brainwashing over decades of right-wing government policy (including New Labour, who were right wing), meaning that they distance themselves from those that have been failed the most by society and refuse to face reality. Usually they say nothing, but can also manifest through laughing at them over reality TV shows like Big Brother and The Jeremy Kyle Show in the guise of entertainment. Hence, the vast majority of complicit people do not realise that this internalised feeling of alienation from them is harmful. As it is, The Jeremy Kyle Show was finally cancelled in 2019 but only after a former guest took their own life.

However, intentions don’t negate the impact. The number of homeless people on the streets begging for change in the UK embodies this. A minority of them actually prefer to stay homeless due to being failed by services. Instead, they find it easier to live a life on the streets than try to get back into employment and secure housing. For them, it’s too distressing and traumatic to adjust back out of this. I never slept street homeless so won’t elaborate on this further, but I will state that services will never accept responsibility for forcing those people into that position.

If it wasn’t for individuals with a collectivist mindset who helped me – likewise a relocation up to another part of the country where more services helped me – I would have died months ago. My future now is looking bright – it’s not perfect, but compared to a year ago it is a vast improvement. I was one of the lucky ones.

The importance of fostering collectivism

It’s essential to not forget those who aren’t so lucky nor privileged. That means trying to foster solidarity with other people and a collectivist mindset. This is much easier said than done, especially in a country where political apathy, tone policing and ad hominem attacks are rampant partially due to the individualist mindset. Likewise, those who are so used to an individualist society around them, adjusting in such a way will be difficult. It is challenging for me – as it is complicated by a lifetime of trauma and internalised bigotry I am still unpacking. This is especially important for services whom are often the last line of support for those that have no one else to turn to.

Do it for those that have died – and will die – as a result of society failing them. Even if only for yourself – after all, dear reader, could be made homeless at any time.

Milla xx

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The Case for Not Giving Unsolicited Advice

Content note: examples of ableism and transphobia used to support arguments

Hi all,

One of the things that have been an issue as of late for me is something that marginalised people typically face when trying to improve a situation. I’m talking about unsolicited advice. Today I’m gonna explain in this blogpost why people really need to lay off with advice when it’s not explicitly sought. To provide supporting examples, I’m going to use my ongoing homelessness situation as it is an example of a situation where unsolicited advice is not helpful.

It’s not helpful

A lot of people who give unsolicited advice often do not understand the complexities of a situation. This comes from two angles. Firstly, the individual. Each person has their own individual circumstances that mean their case is unique in the eyes of professionals. While there are common themes in people’s stories, there are personal stories and access needs that make each case different. For some people, this makes their matters more complicated. For many, this also makes their cases sensitive hence details aren’t disclosed readily. This means that many people who other help do not know these complexities, which means their advice is unhelpful – despite good intentions.

The second angle is that many people do not realise how government policy – especially by capitalist, right-wing governments – has led to services being underfunded and understaffed. Hence demand often outstripping supply. So things are going to take longer because there isn’t enough money or people available to help. Furthermore, a lot of privileged people will not see this reality because they haven’t experienced it. Many people don’t have supportive family or friends nor the money and privilege to buy support quickly. Furthermore, many people get gatekept by professionals for who they are – such as trans people getting barred from single-gender spaces because they are trans.

The same things are said over and over again

Remember, when I said there are common themes providers find when people are close to getting the support they need? One of them is that they have been failed by services repeatedly. People expect solutions to be simple and happen instantly hence make things sound so easy – and this gets upsetting. I’ve had multiple people tell me to “get [my] housing sorted first” before doing anything else. One person even cited Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

These people do not understand the systematic barriers I’ve faced and the fact I need a lot of support to do this – something which I’ve only started to get after moving halfway across the UK (aka drastic action). It’s very unsettling that people act it is that simple for everyone. Still, for many in complex situations like mine, it merely isn’t, and it feels dismissive to have it oversimplified in this way. This is often done repeatedly, by well-meaning sources who don’t know each other so cannot discuss cases in depth.

Frequently hearing the same advice is demoralising and eventually becomes grating. They are scripts – often used to mock neurodivergent people when they are using them – yet ableds seem to get away with using them. It’s a double standard that impacts neurodivergent people in general, but it’s particularly noticeable here.

People feel an obligation to help, even when they can’t

I’ve found when I’ve talked to people, they do sincerely mean well and want to help. And that is a good thing and they deserve credit for that. But in many cases, they can’t and therefore give advice because they feel a social obligation to be helpful. Hence they provide the information to ease this pressure on themselves.

When people vent, they are often not asking for help. Yes, we’ve likely tried what you think is obvious and for many reasons, we haven’t got anywhere. You don’t have an obligation to help us a lot of the time. And if you do, we will often ask directly. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to listen and let us vent. That is more helpful than any advice nine times out of ten.

Sometimes we are gatekept, other times there are genuine access needs or extra barriers that we can’t overcome. A good example is how many services only offer a telephone contact method which is not accessible for many people. Therefore, a lot of emergency/crisis support is not accessible, like support lines. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been given crisis lines by people trying to support me only for me to explain that I can’t access it. I’ve had to start preemptively telling people not to offer them which has finally got people to back off.

Asserting needs is key for people in complex situations

Marginalised people have to assert their needs preemptively a lot – if it is even safe to do so. We aren’t “typical clients” – we are people dealing with the most challenging periods of our lives and we have additional support needs. So yes, that means telling providers not to contact people via the phone in advance before they suggest it if possible. It means telling providers what our triggers are in advance, so they aren’t likely to set them off by mistake. Sometimes it means not saying anything at all about certain aspects if possible. To give one example, trans people who have passing privilege are usually better off not disclosing to services they are transgender as it risks discrimination.

Good people will accommodate our needs. Good people will respect our boundaries. Good people will understand that unsolicited advice is often counterproductive. Good people that don’t understand any of this yet will take the time to learn and help their staff be better at supporting vulnerable people. If you’ve read this article, that’s an excellent sign. The world needs good people and active support networks. One way to do that is understanding the lived experience of service users. Hopefully, this post has gone a little way towards this goal.

That’s all for today,
Milla xx

When You’re Trans, Autistic and Homeless, Finding a Place to Live is Almost Impossible

CN for transphobia, ableism, abuse, legal discrimination, intrusive questions, executive function

Hi all,

Apologies for the inactivity on here for the last several weeks. Today I’m going to talk a bit about the issues I’ve had accessing housing – which is something I’ve had to deal with extensively over the last several months. In short, my living situation at home with my parents became toxic (mainly due to blatant transphobia, ableism and overall abuse, but that’s for another time). The major reason it took me so long to leave home were because I am hitting systematic barriers that makes it difficult for me to access any form of help. That’s not just my words. It’s the words of one of many housing support staff I’ve been in contact with. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

I’m going address them one by one:

Fear of the unknown:

One of the major things that stopped me from leaving sooner was the anxiety caused by the uncertainty of what would happen next once I leave. Where would I go and who would I stay with? How would I be able to cope on the streets if that came to pass? In a way, staying in the toxic household is better due to the routine and certainty of having a place to sleep. This is one reason autistic people find it difficult to escape abusive situations in general.

Most housing services have inaccessible contact methods:

Due to all the stress my functioning ability had decreased significantly. One way this showed is that I could no longer use the phone even to call people I had called before already. This meant I could not access emergency accommodation in my area for one as all of them had phone numbers only and email addresses are harder to find if they are publically available.

Additionally, when I did email housing services they are either slow to reply or don’t reply at all. This included a UK LGBT housing charity I referred myself to in good faith they’d get back to me but they never did. If a housing provider does not offer an accessible contact method they are from the fact excluding those with disabilities from applying to their services and condemning them to their deaths as a result.

Additionally, emergency accommodation is potentially unsafe for marginalised people because of the chances of being trapped in an even more toxic environment. This applies to the physical environment as well as potentially the people staying there. Hence not being able to verify this in advance means it’s a no-go for many people.

Women’s refuge services have transphobic policies:

Here is a bit of a sticky topic. In the UK’s Equality Act 2010, there are legitimate exceptions in the Act that let services to discriminate against minorities if it’s a “proportionate means to achieve a legitimate aim.” This includes potential discrimination against trans people when accessing refuges on the grounds of their gender. Or more specifically, their genitals. When i tried to get access to a women’s refuge in the summer, I visited once to sign up, but I had to disclose I’m transgender in part because the form required it – but also because I did not fully pass at the time and there was no way I could have gotten away with lying on the form.

As a result, I got barred from face to face contact with the refuge as a result due to the fact I’m pre-op (irrespective of the facts that many trans people don’t have surgery and that surgery isn’t something I could get access to for years if at all). They did offer signposting and limited telephone/email support but it upset me so much I am turned off refuges for life. They told me that this is due to their policy which ended up being based on reasons relating to biological differences and safety concerns which shows fundamental misunderstanding of trans issues at best and bad faith transphobia at worst.

Not able to rent privately:

There are a few reasons for this and many of them relate to personal circumstances which I will not elaborate on. However, I will detail some notable issues that affect people like me in general. the biggest reason is because I was trying to hold down a full-time job. I gave up on getting help to escape in the summer so I ended up banking on the money from a job to help me move however this was not possible long-term.
I did not have the energy or executive function to juggle trying to find a room as well as full-time work with a commute. It was too much for me having had to spend my lunch breaks and much of my non-working hours recovering. This meant I could not view rooms and thus could not make any progress.

Other access issues are that I could not work out what listings on the housing sites like Spare Room were legitimate plus many landowners specifically ask people to call them to enquire. This meant I had a lot of access issues even finding places to view so contacting them were largely inaccessible just like housing services. That plus the ensuring anxiety and lack of support meant processing the listings for red flags became very difficult. Same applies for finding houses that are trans friendly.

Finally, there is another legal loophole that meant many more listings weren’t accessible to me. Many of the listings were by live-in landlords and if the “small premises exception” applies they can discriminate on all minority characteristics (bar race) under the guise of a “preference.”
The conditions where this applies are the following (based on the info here):

  • The landlord or a relative of theirs will be living in another part of the same property and intend to continue living there
  • The landowner (or their relative) share part of the property with the other residents. This doesn’t include common accessways (like corridors and stairs) and common storage areas
  • The most likely shared parts will be kitchens or bathrooms; and either:
  • The property includes accommodation for at least one other household, which is separately let, but cannot accommodate more than two other separately let households; or
  • The property is not normally sufficient to provide residential accommodation for more than six people (in addition to the landowner or their relative and their household members)

Seeing as many of the listings I found fit into those categories – alongside the fact I couldn’t pass fully then – meant that I had to rule out a lot of listings. As many landowners are older, more privileged cis people and thus more likely to misunderstand, I did not feel safe putting myself into that situation which is before considering my autism-related needs. I very highly doubt I am alone in this although I can’t confirm personally.

The system for finding accommodation for housing related support:

The current system in the UK for someone who needs housing support to fill out a form via the council stating the needs people have and where they’d like to stay. Then housing providers can view applications on their systems so that if they can contact the applicant to request an interview. I haven’t been to an interview so I don’t know how that goes down, just the initial application meeting for one provider. In that meeting I was asked more about my needs as well as what steps I’ve took to undergo transitioning which includes social, legal and medical. I didn’t particularly want to give any details on the medical side – and the person I saw was very apologetic about having to ask it – but I believe that is a requirement too. Regardless, in the end that didn’t go anywhere as they didn’t have room for me either. However that was only one provider so hopefully there are more out there.

Being declared as unintentionally homeless:

The gist of this is that if I’m declared as intentionally homeless, the council would not help me and this would affect what support I’d get. It’s the same for any homeless person even though the circumstances will be different each time. My circumstances of fleeing abuse is one of a few instances where somebody leaving home when they aren’t being kicked out is not becoming intentionally homeless. It did mean that me and my parents had to meet with a council rep to have some kind of “mediation” even though I knew going in it wasn’t going to be feasible. It was annoying but I entertained the mediation idea and it paid off.

Wider political context:

There is a housing shortage in the UK and has been for some time thanks to the Conservative party. Nowhere near enough affordable social housing exists as the demand for that considerably outstrips supply. The same also applies to supported housing and other types of accommodation. Additionally, there is a lot of homes that are lying empty due to being owned by the mega rich and not occupied. Hence even if I was not marginalised I would still have some problems.

With all the above said, the only option left for me for now is to sofa surf and frankly if I didn’t have friends to help I would have been in a seriously bad place. And being autistic and trans even having friends is a privilege because social anxiety and dysphoria makes it hard for friendships to form.

In some ways, my experiences with my friends the past couple of months have somewhat restored my faith in humanity because it shows that people will step up where they can. However, it also shouldn’t be this way and that’s sad. It’s one reason I’ve written this post because it’s this kind of first hand testimony that spreads awareness of these issues so legal reform can be done. Most people are not even aware of these issues in any real detail especially if they are not involved in the disability, LGBTQ+ or housing communities. Hence I am providing some of the detail.

For me personally, I don’t know what the future holds. I’m hoping to no longer be homeless by the end of this year but I really can’t say for sure yet. Regardless, hopefully 2020 will be a happier, more prosperous year for me. Happy New Year to you all and hopefully 2020 is just as prosperous for you too.

Kind regards,
Milla xx