How does it feel to be homeless?

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A new photography commission seeks to create an honest and intimate portrait of homelessness in London.

British Journal of Photography and CALM, a charity leading the movement against suicide, has launched a call-to-entry to commission one photographer to document the lives of homeless people in London. The selected photographer will also mentor ten people that are currently homeless, each of whom will be given a Polaroid camera and asked to document how they feel through the medium of photography. Are you a photographer that wants to make a difference? Find out more about the commission here.

The official statistics on homelessness in the UK are hard to swallow. In December 2019, Shelter, one of the UK’s leading homelessness charities, released a report detailing the extent of homelessness in England. It reported that 280,000 people are currently homeless; for every 200 people living in England, one is without a home. And yet, these statistics do not account for the hidden homeless – the undocumented sofa surfers or the people sleeping on buses. The true extent of homelessness in England is therefore far greater than these figures suggest.

CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is a UK-based charity that works to prevent suicide. It is here where the link with homelessness comes in. In 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics, 726 homeless people in England and Wales died. The second biggest killer? Suicide.

“We know that 80% of people experiencing homelessness have reported struggling with their mental health and also that suicide is the second largest killer of homeless people in the UK,” says Simon Gunning, CEO of CALM. “There is a considerable link between homelessness, suicide and mental health problems but, unfortunately, we also know this link is often overlooked. Our research tells us that only 17% of people thought mental health challenges were the toughest thing people affected by homelessness face.”


Misconceptions about homelessness and the daily reality of living without a home can often be a barrier in supporting some of society’s most vulnerable individuals. “There’s a broader piece of work to be done here to evolve the understanding of homelessness at a societal level,” says Gunning. “To understand the complexities that come with it, and to empower the public to join with us and push for positive change.”

In collaboration with British Journal of PhotographyCALM is launching Homeless Truths, a new photography campaign that seeks to create an honest and intimate portrait of homelessness in London. In doing so, it will dispel some of the common misconceptions and provide a platform for some of society’s most vulnerable, and often overlooked, individuals to be heard. “We firmly believe that this project will inspire and empower others to reflect on the issue and join with CALM to move towards a landscape in which we see greater enhancement of understanding and service provision for homeless people,” says Gunning.

One photographer will be commissioned to immerse themselves in the lives of homeless people, documenting their experiences to form a new body of work. Over the ten-week project period, the photographer will also mentor ten people currently affected by homelessness, who will each be given a Polaroid camera and film. The brief for these participants is simple: “Shoot how you feel.” Upon completion of the project, all photographers will receive a fee for their images.

“Being affected by homelessness can often feel dehumanising,” says Gunning. “By using the participants’ photographs to show their everyday lives, we hope to remind the public that people affected by homelessness are like you and me. They have ups and downs – we don’t just want to show the challenges they face but the full range of emotions they feel.”


© Calm

1854 Access Members can apply for the commission via a call-to-entry, launching 17 February 2020. The commission presents a unique opportunity for the selected photographer to create impactful and socially significant work. “The photographer should be empathetic, supportive and looking to make a genuine difference to the lives of people who often go unheard,” says Gunning. “Sharing their skills within these communities, gaining an understanding of the lives that are led and, ultimately, working on a project that will help make sure those affected by homelessness are listened to, and know who to turn to, is a rare opportunity. It’s an amazing chance to do something unique that will make a difference.

“It’s also about giving a platform to people who are so often not listened to. We’re proud and excited by this project and hope it will help shift perspectives about the experiences of those affected by homelessness and, ultimately, make positive changes across the country. People don’t often talk about the mental health challenges homeless people face and if this project opens up that conversation then it will be brilliant.”

Due to unprecedented circumstances regarding COVID-19, the CALM: Homeless Truths commission call-to-entry deadline has been extended. To find out more about the commission and how to apply, please see here.