We believe that art is pivotal in raising awareness and telling the stories about the people we interact with...

Chris Sonnex

It is interesting that World Homeless Day and Mental Health Awareness Day fall on the same day. Thanks to research, talks and books like that of Bessel Van Der Kolk The Body Keeps the Score it is apparent that poverty in all its forms, and the possible trauma involved, sits in your body, in your personality and in your psyche.  

 The link between homelessness and mental health is incredibly clear, but us talking about them together isn’t. When it comes to society’s failings we often try to find an immediate cure to the problem. But often the immediate response to issues is only the first step on a journey for wider society and for the individual. Academically, we can say that anyone can experience homelessness, and anybody can experience ill mental health. But we also know that there are certain demographics that are disproportionately affected by homelessness and those people will be disproportionately affected by ill mental health at some point in their life.  

 At Cardboard Citizens we try to look at everything holistically, not just the crisis point. We look at the moments that led to the crisis, the outside influences, and then how you support people afterwards.  

 At our core we are an arts organisation with people at heart of it. We believe that art is pivotal in raising awareness and telling the stories about the people we interact with at different parts in their journey. We are passionate that all people, regardless of circumstance should be able to access art as a human right. Why? For many different reasons. But a big, big reason is about wellbeing, fulfilment, and catharsis. All the things that can encourage good mental health, things that are often denied to people that have experienced homelessness, inequity, or poverty.  

An all-party parliamentary report held over two years and released in July 2017 found that found that the arts can help keep us well, aid recovery and support longer lives, better lived. The arts also help meet challenges in health and social care associated with ageing, loneliness, long-term conditions, and mental health. This report led Sarah Wollaston MP at the launch of the APPG’s report to say: “If social prescribing were a drug, people would be outraged that it wasn’t available to everyone.” In fact, time and time again evaluations regarding art always show that art significantly decreases depression and anxiety symptoms, while increasing wellbeing and feelings of social inclusion.  

Unfortunately, with policies, cuts and U-turns that have been implemented over years of confusion and uncertainty. The actions of a few are being felt by the many. We know that many more of us will be plunged into poverty or insecure living situations. The infrastructure for mental health and social care is getting decimated and funding to the arts is being cut left right and centre. The vast majority of us will be worse off financially, mentally and culturally and all of these things exist in an ecosystem. We need all these things to live, not just to survive.  

Organisations like Cardboard Citizens, or Arts Homelessness International, Clean Break or Museum of Homelessness (amongst too many to mention here) are desperately needed, but like most of us, are also fighting for survival. But I have faith that we and other organisations will continue to make sure that we do our upmost to defend and provide the things that we need to live fulfilling and healthy lives. That trauma, crisis points and the fallout from an inequitable society aren’t the beginning or the end of anyone’s story.