Thursday, 22 April 2010

Across the UK, Shelter is Highly Precarious

Jamie Lindley last night appeared at the Soup Run. It was his first experience of receiving coffee and sandwiches at the Peace Statue.

Evicted after an argument and fight with an overbearing and violent landlord, his slide into homelessness was quick and sudden, demonstrating just how precarious having a roof over your head can be, in Brighton and across the United Kingdom.

"My girlfiend," he says, "is still at the flat in Hove. We've been living there for 6 months, together. She is studying to do childcare, which is very brave, I think, after all we've just been through. She recently suffered a miscarriage."

It was over a nasty comment by his landlord that an argument and fight broke out between Jamie and him.

"The landlord has a key to the house and he lives next door. He has a habit of just walking in without knocking and he came in at 5pm yesterday, very drunk. He walked over to the fridge and just took out a couple of beers and sat down. He started talking to me and my girlfriend and when he heard about the miscarriage, he arrogantly said, 'Well, at least that is one less person to pay rent.' It took me a while to work out what he had said and I couldn't believe it! I saw red and hit him. He then threw me against a wardrobe and kicked me around a bit. He was stronger than me and I've got a lot of bruises and grazes. The police were called by the neighbours and he threw me out. Now I'm on the streets and I've never been in this situation before. My girlfriend has been walking around with me a bit trying to help sort stuff out."

Jamie spent last night and the night before outside St Patrick's Nightshelter in Hove. A homeless man on the Soup Run gave him a woolen blanket to keep him warm against the cold night. The nightshelter also gave him a blanket and promised that because he could prove he had a 'local connection' in terms of how long he has lived in Brighton, he would be eligible to stay there. They were full that night and last night but promise he will hopefully gain access to the shelter tonight because they are 'moving someone on'. He isn't a big drinker and doesn't do drugs. He is touch with the local Connexions service, the Clocktower Sanctuary and St Patrick's Nightshelter and gets sandwiches from the Soup Run.

He is also getting help from the local St Vincent de Paul group (SVP). "The local soup run people told me about the SVP. I now have a job already, amazingly through Connexions, with a local firm doing sales and the SVP shop are going to help me get some smart clothes for the job. The Clocktower Sanctuary also have a fund for emergency clothing so I am really grateful to them and all the people and charities who have helped.

At 21, his story was tragic, but he remains upbeat and optimistic. He is, in a way, a success story of the care system, something which we don't hear so much.

"I was taken into care at the age of three by social services. My mother is serving life imprisonment for the murder of my father. I'm not in touch with her currently. We've been writing to each other but three months ago she tried to blame me for her crime. My experience of the care system was okay. It was hard going from care home to care home, and then into foster care. You're never sure whether they are fostering you because they care for you, or just for the money. I know others who have had big problems in the care system in terms of abuse, but I managed to escape that."

Now that Jamie is 21, his care order, under which he was cared for by social services, has expired and so going it alone in the World and having to look after himself totally is a new experience. The last few days have certainly been a brutal and violent entrance into this period of his life. His story reflects just how tenuous having a home can be, but also how effectively agencies combatting homelessness can be when all of the procedures are in place and when people fit the criteria to access help. Sadly, Jamie says, it isn't the experience of all homeless people in Brighton.

"I talked to one homeless man," Jamie said, "who is being deported back to Crewe. He doesn't want to go back and, for all we know, he could be fleeing from a violent family life or something else nasty. I don't think its fair that the Council just want to ship homeless men and women out of Brighton back to lives and cities with which they have no personal connection any longer. People should be allowed to settle here."

At 21, Jamie can get support from the Clocktower Sanctuary. As a resident in Brighton, he has a 'local connection' and can prove it. But for many rough sleepers in Brighton and Hove, not meeting such criteria can be a severe impediment to accessing much needed help and support.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

HMP Brighton Open Prison

Jason Evans is free...apparently. George, Diane and I went to pick him up from Lewes Prison on Wednesday. He looks well, having been inside for 9 months. He's been getting three square meals a day, resting, working out, learning a few skills, like cleaning and looks much stronger than he did when he went inside, albeit that he was convicted in a most underhand and corrupt manner by a system rigged against him, a system which criminalises his illness and his behaviour and which persecutes him while offering him no support whatsoever.

This is a rather clumsy photo montage, as you can see, but I wanted to produce an image of what an ASBO actually looks like, though it looks much more wicked in its true effect on an individual, and so you could read just how draconian and absurd is the law that the wretched Labour Government, that revolting 'Party for the Poor,' that the shambolic and vacuous 'People's Party' enacted in order to curb 'anti-social behaviour' and generally to persecute poor people.

I don't really care for what side of the 'political divide' readers fall upon. I shall not be voting either Tory or Labour this election. They are equally as shallow as each other. I understand the public's desire to see people 'like' Jason kept in check and the public's desire for 'law and order', but I am telling you now that this ASBO crap does not work. It just continues to criminalise those with illnesses and addictions. Neither, in Jason's case, does prison work, since the poor man is very much left to his own devices upon his release back into a society that rejects him pretty much constantly. If any good has been done for Jason while he is on the inside in terms of care, all of that work is destroyed within 2 weeks of his return to society and it is by no means all his fault.

George, Diane and I spent the morning with Jason having met him at Lewes Prison. His mentor from Sussex Pathways, a volunteer, helped him with accessing a place at a hostel and tried to assist him in accessing his benefits. He is at a hostel in Grand Parade which is full of men and women with drug and alcohol addiction. It appears to be no better than the hostel where my friends George and Diane stay. His room reportedly has nothing but a  bed with a plastic mattress. No sheets, no bedding, no radio, no kettle, no lamp, no toilet paper, no spoons, knives, forks, no pans, no pillow, no duvet, nothing. Whatever Jason receives, and he has already received a generous donation from the Brighton SVP group today, he receives from charity - not the so-called 'hostel' which is meant to be providing some kind of care and shelter to the homeless of Brighton. They, like the Percival Terrace hostel charge him £10 a week as a 'top up' for their services to him. Meanwhile, they give him...that's right! Nothing! Not even some toilet paper.

I don't know if anyone remembers that 60s/70s programme, 'The Prisoner', set in that Welsh village, but that is very much how Jason lives when he is on the outside, nevermind on the inside. The Council, not having, it seems, any adequate housing for released offenders stick Jason where he was, in the same hostels he always gets put in, with the same people, with the same addictions as him, on the same road, Grand Parade. From this life there is no escape, since his ASBO restricts him to the London Road and Grand Parade. It will expire, apparently, in 2012. What is Jason's crime? Jason's crime is the crime of begging, sometimes aggressively and street drinking. That is what gave him his ASBO. That ASBO will not be rescinded until at least 2012 and so therefore Jason will continue to live as a prisoner on the London Road.

The great irony of Jason's treatment by the authorities is that they fail to wish for, or even to hope for, or endeavour to work for, his redemption. His criminilisation means that he is unable to go to St Mary Magdalen Church because he is banned from Brighton's town centre. He is banned from that road. He is condemned to hang around on Grand Parade with all the other ghettoed homeless, poor, drug dependent and rejected of society, with the same people, who offer him the same temptations.

The first question that was asked of Jason on his return to Brighton was this: "Do you want to score?" This question was asked by a young man near the drug misuse service, otherwise known as the Crime Reduction Initiative (CRI). As soon as Jason was released from prison he was offered his temptation. He maintains that he said, 'No.' He does want to stay clean but the authorities most assuredly do not help him to overcome his addictions. They condemn him to poverty, squalor and the fraternity of all the drug addicts of Brighton in one, ghettoised street in Brighton. He cannot even go past the Pavillion and walk to look at the sea. This man is a man who has done his time for his crime, yet he is still held prisoner, condemned to live the same life he lived before he got put inside for a crime which was engendered and set up by Sussex Police!

This town is sick to the very core. Nearly everybody judges Jason and those who live like he does. Everybody condemns them. I expect that nearly all of the individuals who are in and out of prison like Jason have been abused in their childhoods in some form or another. Nobody wants to know their stories! I have talked with more than homeless person who is on the receiving end of 'care' by the local authority who wonders whether, one day, the police will simply take all the homeless and addicts of London Road, shoot them and throw them in a mass grave - such is the level of stigmatisation, woeful neglect, lack of dignity and respect with which they are treated. On top of that they are exploited by crooked hostels such as Grand Parade and Percival Terrace who strip them of their meagre benefits and give them nothing in return!

On the day of his release, we had a party at the flat for him and for another friend, whose birthday it was. We entrusted Jason with around £12. He was gone a while and we were concerned that he may have spent it on a drugs. He returned with food and cooked a Chicken Jalfrezi because he wanted to cook for us and I can tell you now, it was the best curry I've had in ages! Above is a picture of Jason 'serving up'. I doubt, very much, that it is the picture of Jason 'serving up' that those in authority would wish you to see, because the authorities, the police and the council are all waiting to see him fall, literally. I know this because a local advisor for a local housing advice service told George and Diane that she has several 'clients' who have moved here from other towns only to receive a call from the police telling them that "We know about your past, we know where you live and we are watching you".

Let it be known that if ever Brighton gets severely chastised and receives a giant tidal wave and we all perish, it was not necessarily because sodomy was rife. It's more likely that the Lord will have destroyed this city because barely anyone took a break from the party in this town to hear the anguished cries of the poor!

Jason's parting gift from Lewes Prison was a pair of jeans that didn't fit him, with no holes for a belt and with the words HM Prison labelled on the seat of the trousers. What an insult that when a man leaves that prison, he walks out of the gates and is still bearing the name of the prison upon his person like a mark, like some modern Star of David! What a cruel and disgusting irony that he is still walking in those same jeans today! Welcome to HMP Brighton, for Jason, and many more like him, this town is an open prison!

At some point we have to realise that those who have been commended by Christ to His Church, the Poor, those who we are duty bound to harbour and to care for, will not be given dignity, care or respect by the secular authorities. It is not a great leap of the imagination therefore to wonder whether, in fact, given that every State agency fails men and women like Jason time and time again, whether we, in fact, are the ones called to take in and care for these individuals ourselves because, as far as I can see, nobody else will. Whatever Brighton and Hove City Council tell you about Brighton, don't believe it. It isn't a place of abundant love, peace, diversity or in any way easy-going. For a great many people, Brighton is a living nightmare. Nice Pavillion, sure, but across the road from that Pavillion is a ghetto of men and women who this society have failed abysmally, abjectly and with almost insatiable cruelty. The hostel don't allow visitors, by the way, nor do they answer the door. At least in prison, Jason had visitors...

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Caroline Lucas MEP "Shocked" by Council's Answer to 'Temporary Accommodation'

Caroline Lucas, prospective Green candidate for Brighton Pavillion and European MEP and Councillor Ian Davey visited two homeless residents, George and Diane, at a 'temporary  hostel' on Saturday. They both expressed "shock" and "outrage" at the living conditions of the Helgar Trading Ltd owned hostel, a company in receipt of hundreds of thousands pounds of taxpayers money every year. 

Caroline was shown by George and Diane the squalid living conditions of tenants in the hostel on the seafront. 

The two residents have been living in the 'temporary' accommodation since their eviction at the hands of Moat Housing Association over a year ago, the Council having failed to rehouse them ever since.

The hostel charges residents a 'top up' fee of £12 from the tenants every week, yet gives an absolute minimum to tenants in terms of living conditions, with stale smelling rooms and corridors, pigeons constantly defacating outside the basement room window, water dripping from the ceiling, a freezing cold kitchen in the winter, with very damp walls, plaster which is falling off, a shower into which neither George or Diane can fit so they are unable to wash, a shower which gurgles mysteriously with a foul smell of sewage. In the room there is not enough space in a room for a sofa, so the wearied and tenants, one of whom has mental health problems, have developed back prolems from watching the television, with only one channel, from bed.

George and Diane are not in a partnership but a carer-caree friendship, yet have been housed together in just one room since their eviction.

The living conditions caused Caroline Lucas to express her horror at both the living conditions of the residents and the fact that the owners of the disgusting hostel make thousands off the back of society's most vulnerable.

"The living conditions I have seen here are scandalous," said the Green MEP. "The most shocking aspect of what I have seen here is that the owners of this hostel give absolutely nothing to the residents yet must be making hundreds of thousands of pounds, all at the taxpayers expense."

Caroline also expressed her shock at the fact that Moat Housing Association and Brighton and Hove City Council's Social Services Team had reassured George and Diane that they would put their belongings from their old property into storage for them, only for the removal company to destroy all of their possessions, even personal belongings of emotional value, such as pictures of Diane's daughter and letters.

Having seen the squalor in which George and Diane are forced to live everyday, she committed herself to doing all she could to assist them in moving out of the property and into better accommodation and resolved to ensure that Brighton's authorities are made fully aware of the scandalous attitude of Helgar Trading Ltd towards Brighton's homeless, the conditions of their hostel and the injustice that the proprietor is making thousands of pounds off the plight of those without choice in Brighton, those without access to permanent accommodation.