Maff Potts, 35, is now the director of homelessness for the Salvation Army and ran the UK government’s £90m hostel regeneration program. But it was not long ago that he had a crisis in his own life that led directly to him sleeping rough on the streets.
“You’re middle-class and homeless and it’s all very embarrassing. You’ve lost your job and the most important thing for English people is answering that second question everyone is asked at a party: ‘What do you do?’ And when you’ve no answer to that, you start to dread it, then avoid it. It’s very English. That’s what happened to me. I didn’t want to go out. I kipped on a mate’s floor at first, then I slept in my car,” he said.
“I slept on the streets for two months and with no money comes no self-respect. In a way, helping homeless people is not actually about housing, its about giving them skills and self-esteem, giving them an answer to the second question, even if it means you can say you’re a photographer because you’ve been given access to that as one of the activities offered to people when they’ve lost their job. Homelessness happens to you when you cut yourself off from everyone, even your family. It’s the shame. It kills your confidence. And that’s what you have to tackle. It’s about the person and not about the house.”
Potts wants to see resources pointed at reaching people “before they start to lose their grip” and sees a role for the homeless inside their communities.
“They really can contribute. I’d love one of our political leaders to stand up and offer that as a point of view,” he said.