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The Hidden Heroes by Jessica Ryn

The Hidden Heroes

Jessica Ryn used to work at Porchlight, supporting homeless people in one of our hostels. Since then, she's become a successful published author on a mission to change the image of homelessness we so often see in the media.

During my time as a support and resettlement worker in Porchlight’s homeless hostels, I witnessed some of the most incredible acts of resilience and kindness shown by many of the residents. People who had their own significant struggles and problems but would often drop everything in a heartbeat to help each other. It was a privilege to see people turning their lives around with support, and breaking free from the cycle of homelessness, often learning to manage long-term issues that had contributed to it. It gave me hope and later inspired me to write my novel, The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside.

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Changing the narrative on homelessness

A great deal of what we hear about homelessness in the media comes wrapped in statistics. I wanted to write about the very human stories behind those numbers. When homelessness is portrayed in books or films, the narrative is often a negative one. Without shying away from the horrendous challenges homeless people face, I wanted to highlight some of the positive things that can happen for people when they are given the right support. I wanted to show that there is always hope.

A great deal of what we hear about homelessness in the media comes wrapped in statistics. I wanted to write about the very human stories behind those numbers.

The story is told from the narrative points of view of two women: a homeless woman and a hostel staff member. I was drawn to telling the story of a female homeless protagonist because I wanted to give homeless women a voice within fiction. Homeless women are among some of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our society and are often the ones who have to dig the deepest for the immense amount of strength it takes to manage their lives and keep themselves as safe as possible.

Women's experiences of homelessness

Homelessness can bring about untold levels of pain and distress for anyone, and for homeless women, those pressures are often magnified. They are more likely to have experienced trauma, violence and domestic abuse and are more often sexually exploited. They are also less likely to access support due to higher levels of hidden homelessness. Women are often greatly impacted by the loss or lack of contact with their children and experience huge levels of guilt as a result.

The female homeless characters in my book have experienced trauma and many of the same issues that the women I supported in the hostels had. Post-natal mental illness is also touched upon, because I wanted to show the long-lasting effects it can have on women, particularly those who aren’t given timely support and for those who may have had children removed from their care.

Homelessness can bring about untold levels of pain and distress for anyone, and for homeless women, those pressures are often magnified.

What I learnt about female homelessness working at Porchlight

I met many homeless women during my time at Porchlight who had experienced post-natal mental health problems that they hadn’t been given support with at the time, leading to a cascade of other issues including homelessness. During my time at Porchlight, I had the privilege of supporting women as they were reunited with their children which was another big inspiration for the characters in my novel.

Having seen the challenges that homeless women face first-hand, I am so pleased to see that Porchlight is developing specialist services for female rough sleepers. It’s so important for women to have their specific needs met and to be supported by staff that they’re able to build a trusting relationship with. That way they will be more likely to break free from cycles of homelessness and stand a higher chance of getting the happy ending that some of the characters in my novel have. Porchlight and other homeless organisations are doing such important work, and there are always people who slip through those nets. I hope that people continue to support Porchlight so that they can provide this vital service for the women who need it most.

Working in homeless hostels is a special and rewarding job; one that I think about and remember often. It can also be extremely stressful and emotionally challenging – and that’s without the added obstacles of the pandemic. The lack of government funding, dwindling resources and uncertainty about the future places added pressure to an already difficult job. I take my hat off to every member of staff working for homelessness services right now. Without them, so many people would not have the vital support that they need. They are proof that not all heroes wear capes.

To find out more about the novel or to buy yourself a copy, visit Hive.

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