I walk home through Bradford. A ten minute walk to the train station. Here are just a few stories from the people I meet. It is by no means exhaustive. By the time I reach the train station I have nothing left to give. This does not reflect well on me. I just don’t have any more resources (emotional or financial) to make much of a difference. This is one street.
In a week in which a man in his thirties froze to death on the streets of Birmingham. I did a quick search on Homeless deaths due to the cold. It turned up many results and reflects a global disregard for our fellow citizens. Do a quick search it is instructive but utterly heartbreaking.
But let us just start with the local.
Meeting obligations whilst homeless: Sanctions.
Marek. He was a chef. He emigrated here. He speaks three languages. One of them is Russian. He was orphaned at 18 and was ostracised as a Russian speaker in his country. Lost his home due to financial troubles . Very soon lost his job due to struggling to keep up with his obligations. I have not seen him for a while and hope this is a good sign. Fear it is not.
Joanne. I have not seen Joanne for about three months. She has been sanctioned (again) for failing to meet her DWP appointments. Her life is chaotic. She did not even make her hospital appointments after her abnormal smear. She had a head injury and did not even go back to get her stitches taken out. She talks with great love about her grandparents who looked after her. They died in their sixties.
Last news I had about her was that she had been curfewed ( I kid you not). How do you curfew someone who is homeless ? Turns out it’s OK to curfew someone to a squat.
Joanne was a great support to me when dealing with my sisters terminal illness. She was also a support to me when it looked like I had the same. It was not one-sided. Whatever her demons her hugs kept me going. I miss her.
Ian: He has a tumour which affected his speech. Guessing he is in his thirties. He was waiting for tests to find out if it was cancerous. This was not enough to get him accommodation. He went from the street to his hospital appointments. One bright spot is that it is benign and he hopes for surgery in the new year. NHS permitting.
Neil: He is Ian’s friend. They look out for each other. Neil has sciatica. He is on the streets with a walking stick. This has been his life for six years. Neil has lost two friends recently and worries about who is next. Average life expectancy, if you live on the streets, is 46.
Homelessness Fit For Heroes
The veteran. He served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was discharged from the army with a fairly paltry sum. He suffers from PTSD. He ran through his money quickly. Could not hold down a job. Turned to gambling. Lost everything. Veterans are disproportionately represented in the homeless community. Homelessness Fit For Heroes. Not a great slogan for recruitment but an honest assessment of what you might face.
Can we do better?
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the people I meet. Note this is one street. I repeat . One street. Furthermore this is only rough sleepers. There are many more whose homeless status is masked because they are sofa surfing or in temporary accommodation.
To simply characterise this as a consequence of the rise of feckless behaviour is a lazy, toxic and cruel distortion of reality. (Though no doubt this affords some comfort to the architects of the failed housing policy).
What Finland did.
It was recognised that in order to resolve street homelessness a paradigm shift was required. Finland brought in the concept of Housing First. Nobody can be expected to resolve any issues whilst dealing with the daily challenges of being homeless. Get people a home first. Then tackle the “why”. Result. Rough sleeping all but eradicated.