Getting rid of ‘rough sleepers’?

Homeless man

Many charities around the world are attempting to tackle the issue of homelessness. However, to move forward, we must first tackle the stereotypes that surround this problem and deal with the root of it, which is ignored too often.

The most recent controversy connected to homelessness arose after Simon Dudley, the leader of Royal Borough of Windsor Council, called for direct police action to remove rough sleepers before the forthcoming Royal Wedding, when Prince Harry will marry Meghan Markle. Dudley claimed that these rough sleepers would paint Windsor in an “unfavourable light,” comments that caused outrage within the community.

Windsor Castle, based in Windsor, has been home to the Kings and Queens of Britain for over 1,000 years. Being the oldest and largest castle in the world, it attracted around 1.36 million tourists in the years 2016-17 according to Statista, figures that will likely increase as the Royal Wedding approaches.

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle [Flickr:Kai Lehmann]

It was the safety of these tourists that seemed to worry Simon Dudley, along with the ‘safety’ of the people of Windsor. We have to ask, what is it about homeless people that creates such a fear?

The council leader’s comments angered many residents living in Windsor, some even saying that this was a form of social cleansing and directly choosing to ignore the problem of poverty and homelessness. His comments were also criticised by his fellow councillors, many of whom expressed their embarrassment.

Holly Fishwick, whose mother grew up in Windsor, used her outrage to start a petition which has obtained over 300,000 signatures, well on the way its new goal of 500,000.

The petition, ‘Stop Windsor council removing rough sleepers before the Royal Wedding’ highlights the fact that the wishes of the council leader fall ‘coincidentally’ on the date set for the Royal Wedding, making this a clear agenda for the overall appearance and ‘safety’ of Windsor.

The petition summarises the Windsor council leader’s aims, directly drawing light to Dudley’s concerns of a threat to ‘security’ surrounding Windsor, because of its national importance during the Royal Wedding celebrations.

The original open letter signed by Simon Dudley to Thames Valley Police states: “Obviously, the level of tourist interest is set to multiply with the Royal Wedding in May 2018, and there are increased concerns from our residents about their safety. The whole situation also presents a beautiful town in a sadly unfavourable light. As Leader of the Royal Borough, this situation is totally unacceptable to me and my fellow councillors.

However, many residents have expressed concern at the way in which homeless people are being portrayed as dangerous and intimidating individuals, rather than illustrating their true vulnerable and helpless state.

Despite Mr Dudley stating that residents share these fears, many have come together to directly oppose his comments, hoping instead to put pressure on the council to aid and re-home these people before the Royal Wedding, instead of forcefully moving them on and ignoring their need for help.

Holly Fishwick feels especially passionate that Dudley’s comments do not represent “the wider British public’s opinions,” she told Artefact that her aims are to move forward from the comments, rather than focusing on what has gone wrong. Since starting her petition, she has also created a fundraising page, hoping to “end homelessness for good”.

“I strongly believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion and Mr Dudley has broken no laws with his request. However, by asking the Thames Valley Police to enforce the Vagrancy Act, he is revealing his own prejudices. This horrific law is completely outdated and I would like the government to review it so that it cannot be used to persecute rough sleepers in the future,” she said.

“I’d like Mr Dudley to show understanding that no-one is homeless by choice, and to work with local agencies and charities to find a sustainable solution for these people.

Simon Dudley has since retracted his comments, stating that he was not referring literally to homeless people but rather to “aggressive beggars”, and despite the outrage, he has survived a vote of no confidence within his party. The motion was brought forward after his own party members previously failed to force him out, and was defeated by forty-three votes to nine.

Talking to BBC Radio Berkshire, Dudley stated that “the key thing is to draw the distinction between homelessness, which is an abomination in a civilised society, and anti-social behaviour, which is a very bad and deteriorating situation in Windsor.

Rough sleeper

‘Rough Sleeper’ [Flickr:Sascha Kohlmann]

Holly told Artefact that many local people have been in touch regarding Dudley’s comments, expressing their shame and embarrassment. However, moving forward, Holly hopes that charities and the government will intervene and help raise awareness of the homelessness crisis.

“I think the national charities need to focus more on educating the public about what they can do to help, perhaps some government guidelines would be useful. Rather than the awful ‘don’t give money to beggars’ adverts at bus stops, why not replace these with the details of localised emergency night shelters and food banks, the location of the council headquarters, the phone number for Street-link etc.

Many people across the country, including those living in Windsor, have come together to support the cause and raise awareness for homeless people everywhere in order to end this problem for good.

After the outrage surrounding Simon Dudley’s comments, Holly Fishwick was invited to a meeting by Mr Dudley to discuss the petition. Again, Holly Fishwick tells Artefact that she only wishes to focus on a solution to the problem. Holly wrote an account of her meeting with Mr Dudley in The Big Issue, a magazine created to help homeless people in 1991.

“The meeting was fairly productive and I was pleased that Mr Dudley seemed open to some of the ideas I suggested for partial solutions. These included the provision of lockable, secure storage for people to leave their belongings, a marketing campaign providing the public with information on how they can help, potential use of the council grants for voluntary organisations in the borough and the reintroduction of travel warrants, so that rough sleepers in Windsor can access support services in Maidenhead.

Holly talks about the council leader’s new plans to tackle the ‘problem’, although, she is concerned with the way in which these plans may be executed.

“Mr Dudley was keen to let me know that the ‘Rough Sleepers and Anti-Social Behaviour Strategy’ has been repealed and that two separate papers would replace it; one dealing with support for rough sleepers and the other with anti-social behaviour. On the surface this sound positive, however, I’m hugely concerned that the latter report is still going to be used to try and cut down on rough sleeping in the area,” she wrote.

“Mr Dudley says that the latter report will be used to target ‘behavioural characteristics’, in order to try and crack down on poor public behaviour by large parties on nights own in town.

Holly Fishwick has managed to put forward positive and helpful solutions, while she has also highlighted the root of the problem. Some of these problems being funding, the rising house prices, and the cuts to local authority funding.

“In order to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness, we must call upon the government to allocate more funding to local authorities, who have had their budgets slashed under successive governments. We also want to see new homes being built at genuinely affordable prices. Prevention has to be the long-term solution,” she said.

The statistics make it impossible to ignore the system that is failing so many people, forcing more and more poor individuals onto our streets. The figures prove that the privatisation of homes and rising prices push underprivileged people out of their homes and communities, leaving them with little or no choice at all.

Rough sleepers and their little belongings

Homeless can affect people from a range of backgrounds [Flickr:G Rowan]

The number of people coping with homelessness in the UK rises each year, with current figures, estimated by the Crisis homelessness monitor, showing more than 271,000 homeless people in the UK. These figures have “doubled since 2010,” the organisation said. Sadly, the majority of these people will have ‘slept rough’ more times than they wish to remember.

Crisis also identified that “there were 2.27 million households containing concealed single persons in England in early 2016, in addition to 288,000 concealed couples and lone parents. The number of adults in these concealed households is estimated at 3.34 million.”

“These numbers represent a rise of one third since 2008. On the most rec1212ent (2013) figures 672,000 households (three per cent) were overcrowded in England. Thus, overcrowding has remained at a high level since 2009. Both concealed and overcrowded households can be stuck in that position for considerable periods of time, with this persistence worsening after the recent economic crisis,” Crisis said.

The statistics provide strong evidence that homelessness can impact anybody within our communities. However, when the topic of homelessness arrises, many of us may feel helpless, wanting to help but not quite knowing how. Although there are many charities that help those who are rough sleepers and homeless, we ourselves must actively involve ourselves in order to put into action the changes we want to see.

On the other hand, there are still many individuals who push very unfair and negative stereotypes on homeless individuals or even homelessness in general; making assumptions that people are homeless by choice, or that any assistance provided will be in vain because the individual is a ‘junkie’ or an ‘alcoholic’.

These are damning stereotypes which lead to a misrepresentation of the topic of homelessness itself. Shifting blame to the homeless for their homelessness can be deemed as purposely ignoring the problems that our society faces, and the problems that force people into these particular situations.

 

Despite the outrage surrounding Simon Dudley’s comments, there have been many inhumane attempts to ‘deal’ with homelessness in the past. But, communities have fought back, clearly showing their compassion when it comes to this topical issue.

‘Homeless spikes’ were installed in Manchester city centre last year, but were soon removed after a backlash and public outrage that followed. The spikes were intended to prevent rough sleepers from occupying certain spaces, and the owners of building refused to comment on the backlash. Members of the community protested by covering the spikes up with cushions, also buying sandwiches hoping that the homeless people would feel welcome again and return to the area.

More recently, the Bournemouth Borough Council removed ‘anti-homeless’ bars from their benches soon after installing them, again1 because of public criticism which accused them of promoting ‘hostile architecture.’ A petition signed by more than 20,000 people also accused the council of “turning their back on the homeless”.

Once again, the community has come together to protect homeless people and prevent this type of architecture from thriving. But why do they keep appearing?

Big Issue seller

The Big Issue and Saints Foundations [Flickr:Saints Foundations/Lewis Commons]

The rise of hostile architecture proves that there is still an attempt to ‘cover up’ and ignore the deeper issues surrounding homelessness. It may seem that the problem with trying to hide and move on the homeless is that there is, literally, an attempt being made to paint over the cracks within our society. The deeper issues of poverty within the UK need to be addressed in order to tackle to problem of homelessness, as figures continue to rise.

The use of UK food banks is another sympton, and these continue to rise with Trussell Trust reporting that “over 1,182,000 three day emergency food supplies [were] given to people in crisis in [the] past year – 436,000 to children.

There are many charities that do an incredible job of helping homeless people recover during and after their struggle to get ‘back on their feet,’ regardless of how hopeless they may feel.

Crisis is a charity which focuses on helping homeless people out of their devastating situations, and also maintaining contact and support after they have been re-homed. They are aiming to support these individuals in finding employment and any routes to education in order to prevent them from falling back into a helpless situation.

The Big Issue, is another charity which has transformed many lives across the world. The aim is to work together with homeless people by giving them an opportunity to find jobs and create a living for themselves once again.

Statistics repeatedly show that homelessness is not a choice, but a circumstance that in most cases can not be avoided by the individual. However, these situations can be avoided if preventative action is taken by local authorities and the government.

Stereotypes that surround homeless people can only be challenged once there is a stronger urge to educate people on the root and causes of homelessness – it is a complex issue that deserves a proper understanding in order to prevent it and stop it once and for all.

 

 

 


Featured image by Fran Urbano via Flickr CC