Photography as a Way Out of Homelessness

7 Jan 2018 | Working out for a stronger Europe | by Bibbi Abruzzini

The last time a global survey was attempted an estimated 100 million people were homeless worldwide. Europe is no exception to social exclusion and rising levels of poverty with millions of young people experiencing some form of homelessness. They are the ‘hostel-hoppers’, ‘bed-hunters’ and ‘sofa surfers’ that no one talks about. What are their individual stories? What is it like to be young and homeless in Europe? At Yo!Fest we discuss inequalities and inclusion by highlighting ways in which every young person can have access to opportunities and break free from the cycle of poverty. Marice Cumber, founder of Accumulate, tells us how a photography workshop has evolved into a programme helping young people struggling with homeless to find a purpose.

Imagine for a moment you were homeless. It means that you have no shelter. It means that you probably have no one to count on. It means that you spend most of your day worrying about how to make it to the next one. It means that dreaming is a privilege and that you have no time for that. It means that people will judge you, especially if you are young. They will call you lazy, they will call you an addict, they will tell you to “get a job”. Will you be considered a burden to society? Will anyone take into account your past, present, future or your need for compassion and love?

Prejudices and homelessness go hand in hand and breaking free from negative perceptions is a challenge that few are ready to take on. Marice Cumber, founder of Accumulate, is one of those passionate activists who have been working for years to support young people struggling with homelessness through creativity. Accumulate runs photography and creative workshops for long-term homeless residents in hostels all over London.  

What Marice does is not just about photography or turning participants into practicing artists– it’s about giving people a weapon against boredom and depression. It’s about spreading positivity, encouraging friendships, cultivating self-worth, acquiring new skills and ultimately gaining the confidence to start reorganizing one’s life through inner ambition.

“I know about boredom, loneliness and depression. When you have no money, you are not working, you are not studying and you are estranged with your family, it’s very hard to break out of it by yourself,” Marice explains.

“We wanted to support all those who feel disenfranchised. Our workshops give participants something to look forward to every single week. It’s about changing mindsets.”

Accumulate works in 9 hostels across London and organized over 15 photography workshops this past year. Marice work is extremely important today as young people in the UK are increasingly vulnerable and at risk of social exclusion. In a recent report, Feantsa, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless, highlights “alarming evidence of rising homelessness” and calls for EU member states to put eliminating homelessness at the core of their social policy agendas.

In London, the number of families in temporary accommodation has increased by 50% since 2010. Young people remain the most vulnerable to prohibitive housing costs, overcrowding and severe housing deprivation. Over 50% of young people in the UK are spending more than 40% of their disposable income on housing with people living below the poverty threshold finding themselves “increasingly marginalised by a private rental market than feeds off a systemic lack of affordable housing,” according to the report.

“We are all one community, we are all part of the same neighbourhoods but our experiences are so fundamentally different,” Marice explains.

“In the 21st century how can we have a population dependent on food donations in a wealthy country? That is just shameful. We have young people who cannot afford to move out of their homes despite abuses. I am not proud of the state of the play; I would not want to be a young person right now. I think it’s hard. Some have opportunities as they have been given support early on in life, but for others it’s quite desperate.”

The participants of the Accumulate workshops often have difficult backgrounds of poor mental health, substance dependency, histories of abuse and dealings with the criminal justice system, Marice explains. The workshops provide much needed structure and discipline to their week making many young people struggling with homelessness able to get their life back.

“Some people feel crushed by the system and they just give up,“ Marice says.

“With our workshops, changes are gradual; it’s about waking up every morning, going to the gym, going and playing football once. For me it’s not about the participants taking photographs of their situations or their surroundings. It’s not about them portraying their story as people affected by homelessness. It’s about them being valued as any other photography student.  It’s about taking a good shot.”

“Young people are wanting to make changes. They set up social initiatives, community projects, social enterprises and charities. They are taking some of that control themselves as they realize that they won’t get it externally,” Marice explains.

“This is amazing, we see a lot of things happening.”

Accumulate continues to hold annual photography exhibitions where visitors are able to see the images, writing and photography produced, talk to the artists and witness how creativity is a powerful tool for developing and inspiring self confidence, wellbeing and purpose. Accumulate also fundraises for scholarships to enable young people to continue their creative education at Ravensbourne, a specialist higher education institution for the creative industries.

To know more about Accumulate’s upcoming exhibitions and projects click here.

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