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

If you wish to support me, I have a Ko-fi you can donate to here. I don’t expect donations but I appreciate them. Thanks!

What to Know When Accessing Services for the First Time

Featured image description: White text on a pink background that says: “What to Know When Accessing Services for the First Time”. The words “Accessing Services” are larger and curved upwards like a smile. 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.

Content warning for discussion of systematic ableism, gaslighting

Hi all,

Navigating services in 2020 is a huge challenge, as people who have been following politics and issues concerning marginalised people will be aware of. Here are some things to know when navigating services as a multiply marginalised person. This article is aimed primarily at people who need to access support for the first time and have no previous experience dealing with it first hand.

Know what you are getting yourself into.

People who engage services often have no other choice. Hence, due to how dire the situation is with services, it is often seen as a last resort. This will affect how much of a priority you are seen as by services – and this is even further complicated by those with additional support needs or marginalisations. Hence, you need to do research in relation to how said services treat people who fit your marginalisations. This is so you know where to go and where to avoid. Likewise, research local laws such as the UK’s Equality Act 2010 so you can understand your rights regarding what you need help with.

Sites of large organisations are a good place to start, as they explain relevant laws and concepts in plain English and other language equivalents. However, other recommend sources are actually service users as well as user-led organisations. This is because they can explain the situation on the ground away from positive marketing and any secret backroom deals major funders may place on services (this is one reason the UK’s largest disability charities do not hold the DWP to account properly).

There will be a lot of waiting and a lot of rejections

Before I go on, I want to clarify that the behaviours outlined by services below is NOTHING personal against the users by the service providers in many cases. Many staff members want to help, but the awful process of accessing support is the result of government policy that forces them to make difficult decisions on who gets help. It also means they often wait until peoples circumstances get worse before they will help. Service users basically need to answer the following question implicitly asked by each service:

“Why do we have to help? Why can’t anybody else?”

It will be a fight to get anywhere. This will drag out far longer than necessary, so don’t set yourself an expectation of a date where you hope you have what you need. This is because it is very likely what you need won’t happen promptly at best.

Why do services reject people?

Services will often reject people for many reasons. A lot of it will come down to trying to reduce their workload so they don’t have to deal with as many people as the funding they have doesn’t allow it. Hence service users need to keep persisting as much as possible. Rejections usually despite good intentions as often services just cannot help somebody properly, however bigotry is sometimes the case. Some ways these rejections happen include:

  • Misinterpreting the law on purpose to justify gatekeeping – this is where services relying on service users not understanding the law or having the energy to fight back even when they do understand it. One example is not giving somebody the correct priority for a service, such as denying emergency accommodation to somebody that is sofa surfing and could be on the streets at anytime.
  • Citing requirements not made clear before initial contact – This is where sometimes a service user discloses something that leads the service to state that they can’t help someone regardless of how true it is. This is even when conversations initially go well, and support is promised. I had this happen repeatedly when I tried to access services, usually after I disclosed that I was homeless. Another scenario is when your eligibility criteria is changed over time, following a separate or related appointment that someone is told to report feedback on. This also happened to me. It was not made clear to me that anything said at the appointment could affect my elgibility. Because it was, I was ejected from the service with no chance of appeal. Services can get around this by being more clear at the beginning at the request, however I suspect they don’t do this partially because the ambiguity allows them to dodge accountability.
  • Nitpicking – this is where they purposely reject people for very minor reasons or for how they think could react in situations very unlikely to happen. Or if they do, they do not consider that people already have action plans to counteract them nor attempt to find out before rejection.
  • Nonsense – this is basically where services can make up reasons to justify their rejections that is legal to do, but is obviously nonsense to the service user. One example is blaming an autistic person’s mental illness on them being autistic to deny counselling and discharge them, when this is untrue. They know it doesn’t matter if its lies, as long as it’s legal to do so they will get away with it.
  • Not responding to initial contact or following up (ie. A callback) – I am told this is essentially a face-saving act for the service, so that services indirectly let people down rather than have to deal with bad reactions from people when they know they are not eligible. Other times emails, calls etc. are genuinely forgotten about due to workload, but then by the time people find it again, they decide its not worth addressing due to how long it has sat there.

Accessibility needs will often not be met

Services will wrongly assume that every person can use the phone and act accordingly. That means some of the most vulnerable people will struggle to access services. You will often have to repeat your access needs to people countless times before they finally understand and respect them. This is discrimination but like with rejections, services will often get away with it. What I did to mitigate this was write multiple paragraphs in my email signature to pre-emptively stop these conversations. While nobody should have to take steps like this, it works.

You will be forced to repeat your history which each new service you talk to

Many services will have their own assessment proceedures that staff at these services have to follow, which at best is incredibly annoying. This is because the assessments between each service are broadly the same in content, even though what each service provides can differ significantly especially when services are specifially for certain groups (ie. Many services for people my age will often have the following specialisms – Young people, Women, LGBTQ+, Trans-only, People of Colour, Asian, Muslims, Disability, Neurodivergent).

Unfortunately, a major downside of this means reliving trauma as people will not simply just reuse existing information for their own, they must follow the proceedures they have and ask for entirely new recounts of the same information. What I did to help mitigate this was to write an extensive summary of my situation and supplied that to help me communicate what I needed to and give them evidence to use for their assessment.

A lot of mainstream advice is cookie cutter, irrespective of marginalisations and individual needs

Systematic bigotry exists everywhere and default advice in the Western world centres the perspectives of white abled neurotypical cishet men. This is subconscious, because most people are uninformed on how suitable or not their advice. Usually it is because they are trained to give said stock advice and signposting . Hence, be prepared to hear the same well-meaning advice from services and for them to be unable to help you when you point out how it isn’t suitable. At it’s worst, it is unsolicited advice that is both deeply triggering and unsuitable especially as trauma stacks up over time. It is also often done when people are being rejected from services.

Some examples:

  • Telling a homeless people who has never managed a tenancy before they can go private as an option and enclosing a bunch of documents meant to help them on their way, but not helping them understand
  • Sending a list of phone numbers to call regarding mental health support, even though this doesn’t work for everyone and isn’t accessible
  • Urging people to contact the police so they can deal with abusers criminally, even though for many minority groups especially black people, this is not viable.
  • Telling disabled people to “chase up” services, even though said service contact methods are inaccessible and people there don’t respond to messages or call back
  • Encouraging autistic and LGBTQ+ people to “change who they are,” thinking it will help, despite lots of evidence to the contrary

This is why I mentioned getting facts from service users and user led orgs earlier as part of your research.

Some services gaslight to ignore systematic barriers

This is likely the most triggering pat of the article for many, so this is it’s own section. Services can also act in a way that is dismissive of legitimate systematic barriers towards marginalised groups when said cookie cutter advice from above is challenged. This is when services dismiss real and valid issues that affect a whole group as somebody’s personal fears or anxiety. Examples include:

  • Why BAME and black people do not trust the police and avoid all non-essential engagement
  • Why disabled people do not trust social security offices or doctors, so often do not get what they’re entitled to to survive
  • Why reaching out for mental health support can be dangerous for autistic and other neurodivergent people
  • Why a trans person outing themselves to single gender services like refuges can be dangerous

The way services will say it indirectly is “You feel that [this systematic barrier/danger] is an issue, but we don’t accept this. We will claim that all users are required to engage with [said systematic barrier/danger] regardless of personal or systematic barriers.” This is an attempt to absolve themselves of any responsibility of educating themselves and addressing their unconscious biases, but in reality signifies to service users they are not to be trusted. It is a warning sign of bad support. Do not engage services that do this where possible.

You may have to take drastic action upon being failed, including relocation to places where specialist support is

Outside of major cities (Like London, Glasgow and Manchester in the UK), there is little support for marginalised groups. Some support exists almost everywhere in developed countries, but in more rural, right-wing areas it is next to nonexistant. Only a few places exist across those areas and with very limited supply. This also factors into the gatekeeping and barriers marginalised people face in these areas, where service staff tend to believe myths perpetrated by the right. Hence, vulnerable people are not taken seriously and trauma is often compounded. Sometimes situations become unsustainable like mine was and disengaging from local services and/or relocating to try elsewhere are the only viable options left. Only once marginalised people move to a more understanding area after being badly failed, do they close in on the help they need. This is something I anecdotally heard is very common from providers regarding housing and LGBTQ+ support.

Do not face this alone

Trying to access services is EXHAUSTING. I almost gave up a few times myself, but managed to keep at it due to seeking help, such as:

  • Peer support from friends, both in person and over the internet. This can be directly elated to solving the situation or moral support.
  • Advocacy services. Many organisations do this in somecapacity such as Shelter, the LGBT Foundation and many user led groups have professionals that will help advocate for you for free.
  • Mental health support, mostly self-help support and techniques while more proper support is put in place, such as writing and gaming.

Self care is so important

It’s OK to disengage from the situation sometimes. It’s OK to take steps to look after yourself, such as engaging in a hobby sometimes. It is OK to buy yourself some treats when and where you have the money. It’s OK if you have to give up with or disengage from certain organisations that harm where it is feasible. You will get there.

I hope this series of tips will help you navigate the mess that are services.

Milla xx

P.S. If you enjoyed this post and have the financial means to do so, please consider sending a donation to me on my Ko-fi to help me stabilise my life and start my medical transition. If not, no worries. Thank you so much for reading!