Monday, 22 February 2010

How Britain Treats Its Brave Boys

Britain's Brave Boys

Army veterans line up on parade on Brighton's seafront in mid-winter. Is not our veterans' service to this country worthy of better treatment than this? Story courtesy of
Henry Law of
'An Outside View'.

'These homeless men sleeping out under the promenade at Brighton are all ex-soldiers of various ages. They have served in places like Northern Ireland, the Falklands, and the Gulf. Once they left the army they found it impossible to settle into civilian life and ended up homeless. They have a drink problem but clean up as best they can afterwards. They are probably "institutionalised".

A significant proportion of homeless men are ex-servicemen. The official attitude seems to be that they are no longer of use and can be discarded. I think the problem is that the sort of accommodation that would be right for them simply does not exist. I get the impression that they would not get on well in, for instance, a bed-sit flat, which is what they would probably get offered, after which they would be forgotten about as a solved case. These men need a structured environment, where ex-servicemen can live in a protected community, under firm direction

What might be done? In the seventeenth century, Chelsea Hospital was founded for just this purpose. Isn't there a need for similar institutions today? I have in mind large houses with 15 to 20 rooms and communal facilities such as a dining room, lounge, games and hobbies rooms, and a gymnasium run by a well-organised retired sergeant type who was kind, sympathetic but firm.

Residents in the kind of establishment I envisage would be expected if possible to help in the running of the establishment by taking turns with household tasks like cooking and cleaning, painting, decorating and household tasks. To judge from the way they conduct themselves, most of them would be well able to do such things as a product of their army training.

In such an environment, some of them at least might be able to give up their alcohol habits and possibly hold down regular work and become valuable members of their local communities.

This is really something that the government should take on as part of a duty of care to those who choose to risk their lives to defend the country, but if it will not, there is a need for a new charitable foundation. It would undoubtedly qualify for Royal patronage and enjoy huge public support.

Come on, you tabloids, speak up for our brave boys after their military usefulness is past.'

Perhaps Prince Harry, who enjoyed his service in Afghanistan would be interested in hearing about how our veterans are treated with such contempt after their service in Her Majesty's Armed Forces.

Perhaps Prince William, who has recently been raising the profile of homeless charity Crisis, would be interested in hearing about the disgusting way in which our servicemen are discarded by Government and society after putting their lives on the line for Queen and country.

Rest assured, these men, who sleep under the subway of Brighton beach will have their story told as soon as possible. It is a national scandal that men who have risked life and limb for the people this country should then be tossed aside like rubbish into the gutter. It says everything you want to know about our 'throw-away' society and, indeed, our throw-away Government. It is highly likely that these men have tried to get accommodation from the Council, but don't have a 'local connection'. Who would have thought that their service in the armed forces would have prepared these brave soldiers, for this? More on this story surely to come...

Pope Visits Homeless Shelter

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Councilspeak is all very nice, but they do not speak for us!

The Council are reportedly concerned that the Soup Run is 'part of the problem of homelessness, rather than the solution'. I wonder what the Council's 'solution' is.

I served at the Traditional Latin Mass tonight and went after to an 'extraodinary' meeting of another 'form'. The volunteers on the soup run at the Peace Statue met together for what I had assumed was a general chat about feeding the hungry. It was nothing of the sort. The meeting might just have been called, 'Guidelines on how to kowtow to the Council.'

A volunteer for a soup run at the other end of town gave us a talk. He dictated the entire discussion from beginning to end. He began the meeting by suggesting that 'complaints' had been made to the Council. When challenged over what the content of these complaints were, he then asserted that no formal complaint had been made. 'There is a general perception,' he said, 'that the soup run is a part of the problem of homelessness in Brighton, rather than the solution.'

I could not believe my ears. For a start, that a Council which does next to nothing for the homeless of Brighton and Hove have the utter, shameless audacity to dictate to the soup run volunteers on matters of 'health and safety', guidelines or even hygiene is a grotesque insult to both the homeless and the volunteers of the soup run. Secondly, soup run volunteers are not children who need to be told to wash their hands before making a sandwich and ensure their hands are clean when they give sandwiches out. We learned that when we were children! Unfortunately, the whole tone of this volunteer's talk was totally patronising, which, even if his heart was in the right place in terms of warning us to beware of the Council, did him few favours.

He is the 'eyes and ears' of the soup run on a Council committee forum on the 'homelessness prevention team' or something. What I, and other volunteers became disturbed by was his councilspeak on homelessness. He described the poor and hungry who are fed by the soup run as 'clients' and 'customers'. A man next to me who has fed the homeless for 30 years and I looked at each other in disbelief, muttering 'Clients!?' and 'Customers!? WTF!?'

Because of his language, dominated, as it was, by health and safety executive doublespeak, few in the room were left wondering whether he was speaking on behalf of the soup run or on behalf of the Council. It was highly disconcerting. Is this what happens when someone joins a Council committee? In one breath he was reassuring us of his loyalty to the soup run and of his commitment to the homeless and in the other he was speaking as if he were working for housing benefits. Everybody gave him the benefit of the doubt that he was working primarily as a voice for the soup run on a council committee on homelessness prevention but nobody left the room thinking that his perception of both the soup run and the homeless had not been infected with the Council's ethos a little regarding the homeless. I left wondering if the Council had been infiltrated by a volunteer of the soup run or whether the soup run had been infiltrated by the Council. We were all reassured by him that he was on our side and there is, as yet, no reason to doubt his word.

We were thus encouraged, out of this man's charity, that in order to appease the Council's distrust of the soup run and of the very poor and destitute, that we must ensure that we are highly trained in what amounts to basic common courtesy in the making and distributing of sandwiches, because, basically, the soup run is not very popular with the Council (because it makes them look bad and reveals the extent of Brighton's homelessness while they claim there are only 7 homeless people) and all the Council need is one excuse to close us down. This is probably very true.

For this reason alone, many, myself included supported this volunteer's advice, even if most of it was common sense and some of it totally and utterly misguided and unrealistic.

Let it be known. The day that the Council close the soup run in Brighton because it is bad for Brighton's tourist image is the day in which the good people of Brighton (and there are quite a few of them) make a public outcry so big that national TV cameras are in Bartholomew Square. How dare this Council even, for one minute, try and dictate to soup run volunteers, through one of the volunteers on their committee, how to do the soup run or try to frighten us of its future?! It is well known that apart from telling the homeless that they belong in another town because they have no local connection, the Council do absolutely NOTHING for the homeless of Brighton and Hove. The Catholic Church is there feeding the hungry every night of the week, 52 weeks a year, while the Council workers wash their hands of the homeless every single day. What is more, they get paid for doing pretty much diddly squat. At least we do something concrete and guess what, we don't get any money. If anything we end up out of pocket every now and then!

Well, obviously, the volunteers will continue to use their common sense and distribute food to the hungry in a hygenic and sensible manner as we always have done. Heck! We might even use a notepad, as we were tonight urged, to count how many homeless we feed when we arrive and do a quick head count for whatever strange purpose is needed in that respect. We will not, however, most definitely not, take lessons on how to treat the homeless from a Council committee who do not give a flying one about the fate or sufferings of the very people for whom the Council is their first point of reference and from whom these very same people receive jack sh*t in terms of respect, compassion, housing or even food.

The day the Council fund the St Mary Magdalen Soup Run, is the day the soup run runs according to the Council's pleasure. The day the Council sends volunteers to the soup run is the day the soup run runs according to the Council's pleasure. The day the Council calls the Church and tells them they have decided to stand in the pissing rain and cold in winter and feed the homeless of Brighton, is the day in which the Church's mission to the poor is made redundant. That day will never come, of course, and so I will continue, as do so many volunteers who left feeling insulted tonight, to feed the homeless come rain or f***in' shine.

And if the Council, one day, want to send the cops in to arrest the volunteers for feeding the hungry and dispossessed of Brighton because its bad for Brighton's image, then let them do that. I'd happily go to jail for that. Words cannot describe the ignorance of these Council busy bodies. Words cannot describe the corruption and wickedness of the Council. It is high time that those who are charged with the duty to care for and house those sleeping on the beach in Brighton are brought face to face with those who they neglect, with those they ignore, with those who they persecute, with those who they despise for no reason other than out of mere prejudice, suspicion, ignorance and fear! Health and safety!? Like the Council give a flying one about the 'health and safety' of the homeless of Brighton. Most of them wake up with their faces on the floor surrounded by piss every morning. Dear Brighton and Hove City Council. If you're really concerned about the 'health and safety' of the homeless of Brighton then house them and feed them!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

BBC News Report on Los Angeles New Homeless

Homelessness in America is becoming increasingly educated, middle class and often with a family according to a United Nations report.

It suggests the financial crisis has forced thousands onto the streets or into shelters.

Zoe Conway reports from Los Angeles. Click here for the BBC report.

A Tale of Two Cities

It is official. This Council stinks to high Heaven and not just because they didn't give me a job as a relief administrator. George, Diane and I paid a visit to the Housing department of Brighton and Hove City Council. What followed would be laughable if it were not so poisonous. The sign above and the one below will tell you all you need to know about the priorities of this Council. One is situated on the outside and the other is placed in an interview cubicle on the inside. It is 'equality' for some and injustice and punishment for others. It is a tale of two cities. It is truly Dickensian.

George, Diane and I met a lady from Housing and City Support. She listened to George and Diane's story, about how they were evicted, spent a night sleeping rough before being placed in emergency 'temporary accommodation', where they have been, in the same room since then, clarifying to her that they are not partners and asking her for assistance in being re-housed. She listened but hesitated in giving a proper answer to any of George and Diane's questions, saying regularly, "That's not my department, that's the _______ department".

While waiting to see her we met this man, called Neil who has been sleeping rough for a while. George knew him from his days in Bournemouth. I asked if I could take his picture because I am trying to raise awareness of homelessness and poverty in Brighton and he agreed. As you can see from the posters above, we are living in a society here in which men like Neil are arrested for sleeping rough, while the agenda of the LGBT community is lauded as a triumph of equality and human progress. It is the rank hypocrisy of the secular agenda which is at the root of this scandal. Men and women who base their existence on their genitals are raised for special treatment, while the poor, the outcast and rejected of society face a 'stonewall' wherever they go.

Neil, a homeless man seeks assistance from Brighton and Hove City Council's Housing division

I asked Neil whether trying to access housing in Brighton is like banging your head against a brick wall. He said that it was, but I did not imagine that George and Diane were about to hit one as well. Having been allowed into the interview cubicle to advocate for George and Diane at one point I admitted that I was an independent journalist. Bad mistake. I deeply regret it. I had secretly hoped that if I said this that the Council might take George and Diane's cause more seriously since it might encourage them to go out of their way to help George and Diane. I was sorrowfully mistaken.

Once I mentioned that, the 'advisor', named Dominique, said that she 'had to go upstairs' and have a word with one or two people about the case. She said she would be back in 5 minutes. 15 minutes later she still had not returned. George was then summoned to the reception where he was told he was to answer a telephone call from 'upstairs'. George was informed that if he wishes to make a complaint against the Council that he should fill out a complaints form and the conversation then finished. He and Diane were perfectly civil and were not there to lodge a formal complaint. They wanted a resolution to their temporary housing fiasco which has seen their benefits slashed because both are treated as 'partners' even though this is simply not the case.

Inititally, I was outraged by the Council's cowardice. I was infuriated that the presence of someone who is supporting George and Diane and had been covering their plight had made those responsible in the Council back off and close down the discussion in a manner which was shocking in its lack of respect for them and its discourtesy. Inititally, I was appalled by the Council's total lack of shame and thought that given that I was writing about George and Diane's struggle to be heard by the Council that they would naturally want to make an effort to at least appear to be doing something. Yet they did the total opposite.

George outside the Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) Centre, Brighton. George and Diane waited for 40 minutes to be seen by an advisor having booked an appointment.

The Council must know that they are in the wrong. The Council workers must know that they are on the side of injustice, not justice. The Council workers must know that they have an attitude towards the poorest of society which is shameful and scandalous. They must realise that they are incompetent at dealing with the most vulnerable in society. Yet, when faced with someone who was trying to cover the story of those who are its victims, they ran away.

All of these things I thought and yet it is futile. In my haste to try and help Diane and George the Council did what only comes natural to them. It doesn't matter that they are cowards. It doesn't matter that their response was shameful. It doesn't matter that even though Diane was suffering in even walking to Bartholomew House from the car park, that they did not lift a finger to help her or her carer when they arrived. It doesn't matter that they have no idea what these people have been through. All that matters is that the end result was the same or perhaps worse. My intervention did not help matters, but may have made them worse. All that matters is that my assistance led to the Council closing the discussion down. We later went on to Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) who were much more helpful, but progress that could have been made today was not and I know that I am culpable in this.

It is most likely that they would have fobbed George and Diane off anyway. It is the kind of treatment to which they are perfectly accustomed. They are sent from government agency to government agency. They are sent from housing to income support, to BHT, to housing benefits to 'housing options', and back around them all again, at considerable cost to both, in terms of money, bus fares, physical and emotional energy. It saps them. The sense of futility gets both of them depressed. Nothing ever changes, no matter who they see or what they do and so why bother?

It doesn't matter what George and Diane say or do, the Council do not lift a finger to help them and absolutely nobody in the organisation is accountable. Nobody! Perhaps they'd help them if they had sex changes! This is what it is like to be poor in Brighton and Hove. You are given no respect! Nobody really listens to you! Any sense of power is taken from you and you become disempowered in society and dispossessed! Pushed and shunted from agency to agency, you begin to feel like you don't matter. You begin to feel like your voice is not worth having or using. You begin to say what the homeless say of Brighton and Hove, "The Council say we don't exist!"

It is that sense of exclusion from society which the poorest suffer every day. Inside the Housing department is a sign saying that anyone who abuses the staff or swears at staff will be banned. After walking around with George and Diane today and seeing at first hand the prejudice and woeful treatment they experience day in and day out when they seek government assistance or help in a perfectly legitimate manner, it is a wonder that half of Brighton is not banned from their receptions. It is their outrageous hypocrisy and downright ignorance, their prejudice and woeful neglect of those living in poverty which eventually leads men and women to blow their tops and let rip. Today I learned that the Council don't like it up 'em. But that is of no consolation to George and Diane whatsoever. If you would be so kind, pray for them. People who work for the Council get paid quite well for doing very little. I know this because I worked there. I wasn't always a great worker myself when I temped there. George and Diane however, have to work hard just to be seen and receive assistance. Then when they are seen they receive no help and no respect.

I will continue to look for work, of course, but I am happy to work for free, since even if I don't earn a penny out of raising awareness of the utter corruption and incompetency of our Council in dealing with some of society's poorest and most vulnerable people, I know where my treasure is. The truth about our local governments, as well as our central government, must be told.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

"The Council Say That We Don't Exist"

From left to right: Russell, Neil and Michael are all street homeless. They have all been refused housing or accommodation by Brighton and Hove City Council since they do not have a 'local connection'. A 'local connection' means that homeless people must have family in Brighton in order to be considered for social housing. Even though temperatures have dropped to below freezing this winter, these men were refused Council help. When temperatures drop to -1 degrees celcius the First Base Day Centre in Montpelier Place opens its doors for the night.

Michael, reflecting on what help is available to the homeless said, "Sleeping in 0 degrees or even 1 or 2 degrees celcius is pretty terrible as well, you know. All we have is a sleeping bag. The council do nothing for us. The Soup Run does more for us than anyone else. It is a Godsend, literally. We'd be lost without it."

Neil continued to speak on behalf of himself and his friends. "At Christmas, the Soup Run was still there, with hot food because of the time of year and we were even given an envelope with £10 each in it as a Christmas present."

Every night at 7 pm, 52 weeks a year, the homeless of Brighton and Hove are fed with sandwiches and given coffee and soup near the peace statue by the seafront. This is done by volunteers from St Mary Magdalen Church and volunteers from outside the Church who wish to join in and help to feed the hungry of Brighton. Tonight it is 7 degrees outside, but it will rain.

Russell went further; "The Council say that we don't exist, if we have no local connection. Much of the YMCA is empty, meanwhile. I walk around Brighton and there are so many empty buildings which could be used as a hostel for us."

Neil continued, "The council claim that there are seven street homeless people in Brighton. This simply is not true. Last night there were ten or eleven of us where I was sleeping and that is just me." Another street homeless man, Jez, said, "I was with two others." Michael said, "There were seven of us last night where we were." Russell said with frustration, "We are just a blot on the landscape!" Jez, as he turns to leave after the Soup Run shouts to me, "I was born and bred in this area and I can't get anywhere to live!"