Saturday, 13 February 2010
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.