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  • Writer's pictureBen Westwood

INTRODUCTION - Misunderstood - By Ben Westwood

Updated: May 24

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© Copyright Ben Westwood 2023


Every now and then a person or a collective comes along and says “Hey, this shouldn’t be happening to us” and at first they’re often ignored. Initially upon hearing it people will tell them to get over it but over time as each voice plays their part - eventually sometimes good and meaningful changes do actually happen.

Writing this book has certainly been an interesting process within a process and has come about largely from my acknowledgement at the age of thirty-seven years-old of the stigmas that I’ve been experiencing for much of my life but have only recently actually come to terms with.

Even when writing ‘Poems From a Runaway’ which I self-published in 2017 I hadn’t even realised it, and despite people sometimes telling me of the sense of achievement that I should remind myself of unfortunately there were many elements even in that journey alone that had shone a light on how some of us care leavers and those that have experienced homelessness can be perceived by the world around us, if being outspoken about certain topics hadn’t caused enough people to shy away already.

Since first growing up into adulthood I’d always expressed to myself about how I felt a sense of solidarity and alliance with the black man and the gypsy. Yet if you were to ask me exactly why back then I honestly wouldn’t have been able to tell you. But over a decade and a half on and despite having to come through the other side of many breakdowns to truly acknowledge it I can say that finally accepting that it’s OK to state and admit that there’s much unspoken stigma, abuse and exploitation of people from backgrounds like myself such as those that have been through the care system or found themselves out on their own in life really does exist.

For all of the positive and inspirational quotes that would be the type of thing that had actually helped me get through the process of turning my poems about my childhood memories into an actual book, I knew from the very start what I’d be up against.

It had actually inspired me more than deflated me at the time in which I embraced this sort of ‘eye of the tiger’ mentality with the Rocky theme tune playing in my head when times felt tough. ‘Spirit of the underdogs’ I told myself, ‘spirit of the underdogs.

The ‘nothing’s going to stop me attitude’ had in fact eventually led to some interesting results after I’d sent press releases absolutely everywhere, causing me to collaborate with the Missing People charity through blogging as well as meeting other networks of social workers, fostering organisations and other care leavers. Largely though, the journey was a tough one, but that’s life.

It's fair to say that this book goes deep at times whilst reflecting on some of my experiences and despite not being able to represent or speak for all care leavers or those experiencing homelessness that all have their own unique and individual stories, hopefully I can portray to anybody that reads this at least what life through the eyes of somebody like myself can be like at times.

Perhaps getting too heavy in the past on social media regarding some of the topics relating to abuse had caused a lot of sudden disconnection whether through the algorithm or simply being too much, and perhaps using the same platforms for everything was never the best way to try to promote my projects. Still though, a small number of you have stuck with me and even helped support me whilst in the process of writing this book, not only those that I’ve dubbed ‘the seven sisters’ that had signed up to my now-closed Patreon-style monthly subscription service for my writing, but others also that helped in whatever way that they could to help counteract the feelings of a world that mysteriously constantly rejects and invalidates you.

Over the last decade or so I’ve been through a lot of personal changes and not all for the better too. Mental health can take its toll in the end, and in turn sometimes even physical appearance. Not that dreadlocks are the easiest thing to maintain but for some reason I constantly choose to avoid the easy route. But nevertheless, it can feel like a dark force is in grip and control of my life at times, a curse almost, as if life is laughing at me in the face. Once you learn to adapt to survive in whatever way that you can after everything, not everybody will always understand it, especially if they don’t really know your story.

With everything that I talk about in this book, as well as the things in my life that I don’t mention, perhaps in this writing comes other messages too about the misinterpretation of what should be called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but is often simply labelled as mental illness.

It’s something that all of us can unknowingly do having jumped too quickly to conclusions and not having heard the depths of a story from a person even if we think that we’re advocating for them.

There’s a lot more here though than simply demanding recognition, but in fact a much more important message which I think the world would be foolish to ignore. Yes, the disregard, the exploitation, the stigma and all of the rest is very real indeed. But more importantly if people really wanted a better future for the world that has less abuse and more connection then perhaps it’s important to see where we’ve gone wrong as a society in our lack of acknowledgement of the misunderstanding and the disregard of the experiences of people like myself. Ironically, it’s not like there’s a total lack of understanding of such problems, we just seem to still go on to contribute in making decisions that allow these things to continue playing out.

Despite naturally batting it off constantly, it can still niggle away at a person eventually to know that often their stories, feelings and even warnings to the world are so often completely disregarded by people and the world around them. It was a confusing place to be in for a while but thankfully times are catching up with it all and I can finally feel strong in knowing that I’m not the only one that’s going through this sort of experience and that it’s finally being officially recognised in society.

Whilst some of us contemplate if society really is breaking down, it seems that all of the things that used to mostly affect the unheard and unacknowledged day by day seep further into the fabric of everyday society. For most part, those that ever did go about trying to highlight the scope of exploitation, disregard, abuse, corruption and cover ups were only ever trying to do so as a natural response to try to protect others from facing the same fates as they did.

There are still a lot of people that don’t see it like that though, and those that use the topic of abuse to follow internet trends and just join in on the hype do little to help the situation in that regard for survivors, whistle-blowers and abuse campaigners.

In this book I’ll discuss some of the overlooked elements that are often part of such abuses in our society but rarely spoken about in current media I believe. To put it in simple terms for now, we’ve learned about narcissism and psychopathy as well as the true scope of various forms of exploitation and abuse, but perhaps it’s time to take a deeper look into both and how they can interlink to create a reality that those around can become psychologically established in, thus causing them to indirectly condone such abuses and become bystanders.

I’d like to give a huge thank you to Kai the hitchhiker for giving me the opportunity to not only tell some of his story more authentically than I’d ever imagined I would do, as well as using it to reflect on parts of my own life, but also for correcting me on some of my own assumptions from being easily led to believe much of what I’d seen in the Netflix documentary about him.

I’d also like to thank those that stuck by me though my journey of which it’s been obvious to some the mammoth task that it’s been in getting my messages out there. Over time though I’ve discovered some great people that I’m extremely grateful to have met since writing my first book.

Not only do I hope that this book is able to give more of a voice to some of those that grew up like myself but for whoever else out there comes across the same stigmas and prejudices in society. For all my occasional bitterness that other groups seem to have been acknowledged for their stigmas more than care leavers a lot has changed recently in the realms of recognising them. During the process of writing this book it’s been great to see more of the stigmas and prejudices towards care leavers being official acknowledged by some councils in the UK by introducing protective characteristics for them, something that has been passionately advocated for by both collectives of those with care experience such as campaigner Terry Galloway and those working within the fields of children in care and social work.

In some ways I guess I’m trying to peel back a few layers of the things that some of us may already know but might not have reflected on with such situations under a microscope. Words, information and education are indeed very important but how much of what we learn really provides us the fine detail enough for people to be able to feel and spot on a self-validated instinct the workings of exploitation and abuse at play. Many of us would like to believe that we’d be the first to make a stand upon such dynamics occurring, but all too often people are screaming out that groups are turning against them, even colluding to quash their voice and that any attempt of trying to do as what they’d perceived as the right thing had only been met with instant disregard and with what can be interpreted as spinning and spiralling eyes.

I’d be lying if I said that when I’d started writing this book that I was in bright place, but with the writing of it being an entire process in itself perhaps it’s important to note for anyone else out there going through such an experience in life to remember that it’s not all bad, and most people aren’t abusers or exploiters but sadly in today’s world many seem to simply get spellbound by the Machiavellian charm which is often using many of the tricks we see, in which one of them is being perceived as the path to resource. I’ll explain more about that later on but the more I think about it the more significance I feel that it has in the world. Sometimes the power is with those that are perceived by others as a provider of opportunity or resource, there’s a lot at stake. Those that are more inclined to be exploitative or predatory will fight to the death for that position because whilst respected and needed they feel like they can get away with whatever they want because few will cut down a tree that bears the only fruit around, even if that tree is rotting.

If this book goes on to help even one or two people become less judged and feel more understood, then it’s been a good investment of my time to write it.

For those that have never knowingly dipped their feet into the oceans of systematic abuse, exploitation, stigma and anything else relating to it all it’s important to remember what those words actually mean. Perhaps on first presumption some would initially think that the battle is combatting only cruel slurs or dangerous social situations, but hopefully this book serves a reminder to some that it’s a whole lot more than that and can affect almost every area of a person’s life from immediate relationships, employment and opportunities, and eventually for some detrimental long-term trauma and mental health effects.

Of course, I don’t have all of the answers or insights to every homeless person’s life, but I hope to advocate for those like myself that feel they’re constantly battling with an existence of feeling misunderstood by the world around them. Such experiences can result in feeling more exploited than truly welcomed in by the world in regards to it’s true depths and when things really matter in which a somewhat vague relationship with the world can ensue despite a strong love and a natural wanting to care for it.

Upon hearing the words such as exploitation and abuse some might presume that those like me fail to stand our ground or simply don’t pipe up enough to be listened to, which is ironic considering that most of us had survived and battled through much controversy during our lives.

With the current status quo, those like me standing their ground in such situations are rarely getting far in seeing any sort of desirable results or justice in their experiences. Abuse and exploitation is covered up far too often by the fobbing off that someone is merely paranoid or by labelling them as erratic, or as outright trouble-makers.

Even dealing with drunk people on the street can seem effortless compared to what gets flung about in what is apparently the normal world which is currently infested with the destructive disease of control and manipulation over others, as well as much needless competition and battles that can feel like a complex game of chess. Some people might think that is normal but I feel many like myself deep down had always found a way to navigate away from such realms that sacrifice genuine connection and collective health over the immediate sensations that a person can feel when group bonding has been achieved by ‘black magic’ style strategies, something that people like myself are often on the receiving end of.

See, you don’t need to be old, frail, disabled or severely mentally impaired to be vulnerable. You just need to be largely out on your own with nobody really knowing your struggles.

Far from a qualified expert on the subject of abuse, perhaps though it’s still true to claim that those like myself that have experienced homelessness from such a young age learned quickly about being an immediate target for predators. Just like victims of domestic violence, child grooming and sexual abuse there have been many times when it was someone like us that had quickly learned to see through the veils of apparent respectability.

One of the things that brings much magic and great vibes from the world around me is sometimes when I’m out busking with my guitar. People seem to enjoy the music and may see me walking through a town center that I’ve busked in seeming as if I knew everyone there. A nice existence on some levels, but none of those relationships are as deep as life-long bonds and it doesn’t do much to counteract the feeling of being often completely misunderstood for who I am deep down, judged, disregarded and tossed aside as the scapegoat in many places that I’ve found myself in. We’re told that anybody can be successful if only they wanted to work hard enough, but money doesn’t buy everything, especially happiness, and in a world where much more genuine connection and understanding among each other is often needed many find their different ways of coping with the confusion through what can manifest as a variety of mental health disorders.

Sometimes people want to hear more about the shocking facts than the ways in which we can be aware of them or prevent them. I’m not here to simply unleash the drama from life into a book, but in some ways it’s an attempt to strip back the many layers that have gathered over some of our realities and take a fresh look at it all from other angles to get a deeper perspective on some of what’s gone wrong in the world for a few of us. Of course, one must also take responsibility for their own failings, shortcomings and errors but I really feel deep down that many among us have to climb back a lot harder to prove ourselves and be accepted for who we really are.

Perhaps it’s healthy to accept that this will be a hard road in getting people to want to acknowledge it, especially as there will always be those in society that seek to provide an excuse or subtle validation for discrimination, abuse and exploitation. It’s easy in today’s world to see why some people choose to make their income from frauds, forged-fairytales and woven illusions because many like me simply become tired of coming up against such baffling barriers so much of the time when it comes to people embracing some of the deeper truths.

Some like myself try and keep a faith through it, but over time that confidence can easily get smashed away when people link ‘former homeless guy’ with ‘incapable.’ How I’ve not entered the world of criminal justice somehow myself at this point I simply don’t know. For what anybody might think of me and my struggles I personally feel that I’ve done quite well in not having to tread on anyone else’s toes to get by whilst watching others experience the many opportunities and moments that I feel I’ve missed out on in life. It might even surprise some people to know this, as especially having been a young teen that had often been creative in learning how to try and get by. I’m not sure what’s made me stick through all of this to be fair, maybe the actual love for it, but despite getting into a little debt from time to time knowing that I’ve least tried to give it all a go in my most authentic way is something I can feel proud about I guess.

Whenever I talk about anybody experiencing homelessness including those living on the streets I certainly don’t want to misrepresent or over-generalise anybody. But I’m sure many of those might agree with me when I say that what I had consciously picked up on from a young age whilst out there was that it had often appeared that the most vulnerable of people, especially the elderly and those with chronic trauma or mental health issues that didn’t put themselves out on show and employ hustlers marketing strategies could go much longer periods of time without seeming that few people had been interacting or looking out for them. Being young back then I was lot more approachable, but once people get to a certain age all of that goes out of the window.

Obvious symptoms of trauma and mental health effects play a big part in regards to people wanting to create dialog and communicate with somebody that is homeless but obviously in distress. Those that don’t think too deeply about mental health might even forget that despite witnessing somebody in such obvious turmoil in one particular situation that it doesn’t make up the real picture of who they are completely, nor who they are the majority of the time.

Hopefully this book doesn’t just speak for those like myself from a background in care and homelessness, but also for the many others out there that might feel underestimated, undervalued and in many ways unseen.

Any personal reflection of exploitation, abuse and injustices that I write about here are nothing that I need too much personal sympathy for. However, there are many like myself that are sharing their experiences and shouting it out loud because we know that it takes people to listen, think about, care and respond for anything to change for those currently going through such events. For many natural activists it’s easy in the early days to presume that others will follow your lead, but the older you get the more you realise what such an established and mammoth task that you’re taking on. Still though, you’re often reminded, albeit sometimes years later that what you’d presumed was a lonely and isolating experience was actually in the process of being played out on a much bigger level, such as when you start noticing in the mainstream media that voices are finally starting to talk about it all.

So for all those like me that have gone through those processes of losing and finding their faith in humanity and for a while were easily deceived into thinking they were alone, hang tight – it’s a long game.

Despite the goodness there is in a lot of people there’s still a big problem of the homeless being degraded in many different ways, with no real thought or respect as to how resilient and hypersensitive many of them actually are. Sure, they might not have the house, the long-standing careers and the mortgage but what many of them do have is the willingness to keep going despite the fact that many have never really had any sense of support or guidance to exist and flourish in what is already a system hard enough for most people to navigate through and succeed in.

I guess I know all that all too well by now. With finally acknowledging the levels of stigma and systemic abuse there really is to many of those with a history of homelessness and people that can be too easily mislabelled as ‘drifters’. Many would of chosen a completely different reality for themselves, but it is what it is and being adaptable humans we continue to survive.

Making a firm stand against a stigma that we know exists doesn’t mean that we’re trying to make a pity-party or play the victim when we question how society can treat some of it’s vulnerable. Subconsciously though many people still think that it’s a world away, yet in reality many aren’t that far away from walking those roads themselves. Still, the disconnect between the two realities can give the illusion of more distance between some people’s lives than their actually is.

Eventually certain dynamics reveal the well-established systematic abuse happening to sections of the community and over time it can take its toll on some people and its driving ethos’s can even infiltrate well-meaning groups. It’s understandably easy for those like myself to feel bitter about some of the things we feel that we’ve missed out on whilst some can never understand what it’s like to be largely out on your own and how it causes you to be a beaming target for all sorts of exploitation and weird behaviour.

Of course, it’s a diverse world though and perhaps those that say you’ll never defeat the predatory elements happening within our culture might be right to much a degree. But despite what some of you may think already, given a fair playing field we’d deal with those situations just fine if we were playing by our own rules. But what a lot of people like me struggle to deal with and accept though is the world around us telling us that we’re wrong for standing up for ourselves or others, which happens all of the time, and quite frankly it’s a baffling place to be in where goalposts are moved and the game feels rigged.

Hopefully this book does it’s job of shedding more light on some of the situations people like myself can find ourselves in and the many barriers that we can find ourselves coming across.

Now even with UK councils recognising the stigma, are you ready to accept this deep-rooted phenomenon?



Thanks for reading :)

View the full uploaded contents list and find out more at

To support the book and gain exclusive access to chapters visit

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