There are many crises hitting the UK at the moment, one you may not realise the full impact of is homelessness. We’ve just gone through some of the coldest weather the UK has seen, in some parts, for over 20 years. It was -8c in London on Tuesday of last week as the snow started to fall, and myself & a friend found Bob and his dog on the pavement in Shoreditch. He’d been trying for the last 4 hours to get into a shelter only to be told “No” in a variety of ways. The most common issue was his dog – the local council seemed to actually enjoy taking a holier than thou tone when advising “oh no, we’re not an animal shelter”.
Can we not pause for a moment and just walk outside, feel what -8c does to you in a few minutes. These are people.
We are all only a paycheck or two from finding ourselves in a similar position. Bob had gone through a bad divorce, all he got was the dog. He now spends his day trying to raise £15 to get into one of the few shelters that will take him and his dog.
Many of us are guilty of sharing the StreetLife post around facebook or twitter – you know the one. “See someone on streets sleeping rough tonight? SWEP is in action, your local council have a duty of care to house people tonight due to the weather, call now!” But have you ever called this number and tried to get someone of the streets – as it starts to snow? It’s impossible.
The hotline aims to house people within 48 hours, what useless nonsense is this? He could be dead in 4 hours, forget 2 days. We bought Bob some dinner, got him a hot chocolate and chatted with him for half an hour whilst we tried to find him an option. Each person we spoke to was less interested than the last, and all on a day when emergency provision are supposedly in place. What on earth is it like on a normal night?!?
Even worse – what is a normal night?! Cardiff came through with the answer to that one a few days later.
A red weather warning had just been cancelled and it’s Saturday night in cardiff. The roads are soaking with slush, ice, grit and the remnants of a week of snow. Its 3c outside and starting to rain as we meet Fred and his dog huddling in an arcade trying to get out of the wind. As the red warning had been lifted earlier in the day the police were now not interested in helping.
“It’s not a risk to life anymore” said the copper.
Are you serious?
Again, we spent about half an hour chatting to Fred – he’s been on the streets for nearly 10 months, again ousted from a home he’d spent his life paying for only to be kicked to the curb in a messy divorce. (This isn’t a rant about divorce, the lawyers or people escaping bad relationships, its just the story that presented itself to me) He hadn’t had his dog spayed so this was used as a reason to not allow him shelter the night before. There’s always a reason…
We left Fred with all the cash we had on us in the hope he’d be able to get into somewhere dry at least. Shortly after while eating I realised I wasn’t going to eat the ridiculous amount of chips i’d been given with my burger and wanted to offer them to Fred if he was still around – and while they were still hot. He was no-where to be found but in a 5 minute walk around the block I met and stopped to chat with 3 other people preparing to bed down for the night in the rain.
To some people, this is not news. I work with a fabulous person who organises weekly walks around central london to take tea and friendship to the homeless – I will be joining her brigade as of this week. To others, they see the headlines and listen to the news – but in reality have no idea of the challenges being faced, and I think we’ve all been guilty of at least once in our lives of walking passed a person asking for change on the street. Out of mind – out of concern.
You can imagine my fury when i discovered that we have a pot of £28 million waiting to be spent. This government has been slowly murdering the weakest in society with their Back to Work Assessments since they took power – now not content with the thousands of deaths already on their hands they’ve gone into hyper-drive looking to solve homelessness by killing as many as possible in one winter. One man died within walking distance of parliament.
If you have spare clothes, donate them! Is there someone on your local high-street? Give directly to them, and have a chat!
We are all human, we need human contact or we all go slightly bonkers.
St. Mungo’s just decided to help the home-office deport even more homeless people, so maybe take them off your Christmas Donations list as well.
A friend and I are starting a fund to renew CSCS cards for those in the construction industry currently out of work due to lapsed qualifications, we’re also looking to see how we can offer short-term work placements to help people start re-building their lives after a time on the streets. If you are interested in this please use the contact form to get in touch. We need caring employers as much as we need cash.
*Names have been changed out of respect.