Housing

What does it sound like to be homeless?

Everyday sounds take on deeper significance when your life is lived on the street. A group of people who have been homeless describe what they hear a in a typical day

Homeless man on bench

BIRDSONG

Alex: That’s the first thing – the wee birds will be starting to sing. It is a very comforting sound, because you know that daylight’s not far away. I’ve made it through another night, and I’m still alive.

RUSTLING BUSHES

Vlad: I sleep rough, in the bushes. Full of insects! I’m wondering when they die. It’s too cold now, but they’re still alive. Animals have good instincts. Every animal knows if it’s in danger. That’s me now – half animal, half human being! Can you imagine if you can’t close your door, to lie down and sleep all night without fear? Actually, I made a door, at my bushes. It’s just two pieces of wood. It’s just for me, the door. You know? No lock.

Every animal knows if it’s in danger. That’s me now – half animal, half human being!

TRAINS

Tam: My very first night, under the bridge at the Clyde. The deafening silence when you’re under there for a few hours. And then, boom – first crack of the morning – BA-DUM! – the trains going over the top of you. I still get it, I still hear the trains and it reminds me of where I was and where I’m definitely not going back to.

KNOCKING ON A HOSTEL DOOR

Tam: It’s a morning check. Basically they chap your door at 10 in the morning…
Peter: If they don’t get a response the door gets kicked in. Automatic.

Men in a hostel for the homeless

Tam: They make sure, they shake you, make sure you’re alive. They say it’s just a “duty of care”, but we call it a Death Check!
Julie: That’s the only time anyone ever came to your door – to see if you’re living or dead.

THE SMITHS

Liam: I listen to a lot of The Smiths, I love The Smiths. A lot of their music and their songs, to me it feels like a story. It actually sounds like it’s written about me.

SOUNDS OF THE STREET

James: Hearing people walking, going to work, having conversations about how stressful life is, etc etc. When you’re actually down on your knees, you hear things from a different perspective. You get more attuned to things you would not normally hear. Footsteps.

When you’re actually down on your knees, you hear things from a different perspective

Cheryl: A lot of people are out, begging for money, but also for company. A couple of minutes’ conversation means a lot more than a pound.
Jason: Silence makes you think TOO much. You can hear your own thoughts. So a wee bit of noise, you can concentrate on that noise and it gets you away from your thoughts.

ALLEYWAY

Alex: When you go down an alleyway, you’re listening before you’re looking. You make yourself small and quiet, so you’re not noticed.

Alleyway

James: In a typical alley, most of the time you fear those footsteps are coming to either do you in, or move you on to somewhere else. Background noises that you’re more aware of – heating systems, bins getting moved around, distant footsteps from the main drag. But most of the thing you hear is the heating system, a slight source of heat. At the end of the day this is your home for the night, until tomorrow.

PUBS COMING OUT

Margaret: You’re alright until the pubs or the clubs come out. That’s when the mayhem starts, and the fear kicks in.
Alan: You become more alert, more vigilant. I find my emotional responses to sound are different. In the past, where I might have had a happy feeling at hearing some drunk people down the street having a good time, now I feel more like, “Oh no, what’s going on.”
Margaret: And then you hear the lack of taxis going about, and you know that’s the last dribble of them heading home. You know it’s alright, it’s safe to put your head back down.

The group talk about sounds connected to their experience of homelessness for BBC Radio Scotland documentary Skippering, airing on December 13 at 1.30pm and available on BBC iPlayer

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