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Professor Green: Can we create a Utopia where we end youth homelessness?

Chart-topping favourite Professor Green asked himself this question. He made a film to investigate. This is what he found...

Who are we as a society? What kind of society do we live in if there is no desire to help the people who need it most? Homeless young people really are the most vulnerable people in society. They are someone’s daughter, someone’s son, and something has happened in their life – either by their own hand but quite often not – that has meant they fall between the cracks. We live in a society with very little safety net. I have made bad decisions. If I didn’t have the support of my family, god knows where I would be. And some people don’t have that.

But you can’t begin to help anyone without having an understanding. I made my new documentary, Hidden and Homeless, after a man in a suit tutted loudly when he saw me offering money to a young homeless man in Shoreditch.

What went wrong in that man’s life to make him react like that? There was such a lack of empathy. We live in a society where some people demonise the most vulnerable, and I find that disturbing. I wondered whether that was everyone’s opinion.

I found that everything is set up for people to fail. It is the demonisation of an entire class. There are twice as many people sleeping rough on the streets of Manchester as there were a year ago. And those are just the people who have been counted. And to be included in this statistic means you have to be in a sleeping bag and actually asleep when they do the count.

We live in a society where some people demonise the most vulnerable

They try everything not to put you on that list. And those sleeping rough are not all the people who are homeless. If you are in a hostel, you are homeless. If you are sofa-surfing, crashing on a mate’s couch, you are homeless. It is such a multi-faceted problem.

With the benefit cuts to under 25-year-olds, so many young people are going to lose their homes. And what happens then? Government departments are looking at a spreadsheet, ‘here’s how we save some money’. But it is a real short-term fix. Prevention is always better than cure.

Think about what it must feel like to spend that first night on the street. There is no homeless starter pack. People are constantly moving around, so how do you focus? How do you get out of that cycle when all of your energy is spent on getting shelter? Nutrition isn’t something you can worry about. You take anything you can get. So you become malnourished, you are exhausted, and it gets so much harder to make the right decisions.

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Can we create a Utopia that will help these young, vulnerable people? It is such a clusterfuck. That has been the hardest part about doing this film – I haven’t come out with any result. I was naive to think we would. The situation as it stands doesn’t look like it’s getting better.

But I absolutely have faith in young people. We went into a school. In the beginning, they started out with quite stereotypical ideas of a homeless person as an old man, maybe with a dog and a begging bowl.

But within half an hour they began to see them as individuals, as humans. They were really thinking about who a homeless person might be and what might be going through the head of someone who is homeless.

Introduce these ideas everywhere and we can change a whole generation’s outlook

You have to encourage it. In the same way hatred is taught, so is compassion. Introduce these ideas everywhere and we can change a whole generation’s outlook. We need to be more compassionate, and remember that these people are human, they have got names and faces. Just say hello. Look people in the eye. See there is a person there. And don’t blame them or make assumptions. They are there for a million different reasons.

The bits of hope I saw were in the organisations picking up all the slack for the authorities. Don’t get me wrong, the success stories were few and far between. But the looks on their faces when they told of people who had got off the streets or who had found work was brilliant. A lot of them had been through this situation themselves, seen it firsthand. They have got the patience of saints. That is where you start – as a government, you talk to people working in the sector and learn from the people who actually help.

I met a lad teaching sports classes at New Horizon Youth Centre, near King’s Cross. He used to use the facilities there, now he is fully qualified. Talking to the young people there, none would be picked out of a line-up as homeless. But their stories, the things that they have gone through… man, it’s so tough.

If this documentary starts the conversation, that makes me proper happy. The thing is to never become preachy. That is not how people take things on board. I am trying to stay smart, introducing people to subjects they otherwise might not give a fuck about, and encouraging compassion.

Professor Green was talking to Adrian Lobb. Professor Green: Hidden and Homeless is on BBC1 tonight (February 23) at 11.45pm, or catch up on iPlayer

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