Searching for Homeless Interviewees with the BBC

Homeless in Brighton: Upper North Street
I was recently contacted by the BBC in Brighton who are looking to make a documentary on the homeless and the cuts. So, I accompanied a reporter from the BBC to the St Mary Magdalen Soup Run.

The BBC are looking for a particular strand of homeless person who has been affected directly by the Government's cuts.

In other words, the BBC are looking for 'deserving poor', rather than 'undeserving' poor. The deserving poor are those who have been hit by the cuts. The undeserving are those who are homeless because of some other event or feature in their lives. Interestingly, nobody from the Soup Run really came forward to be interviewed. One who did think about coming forward was reticent about being interviewed because he has family in another part of the country and he doesn't want them to see him in his situation as it is now.

I don't know why the BBC man, who is very affable and likeable, requires someone from the Church to put him in touch with homeless men and women. After all, at about 8.30/9pm, they're everywhere in Brighton, in shop doorways and the doorways of disused, empty office blocks.

A car park in Brighton now using electronic access
All you have to do is walk around and approach them and ask them how they ended up homeless and whether they would like to talk. Anyway, I did manage to find one man on Western Road after the Soup Run who wanted to talk. He was made homeless when the hostel he was staying at in Rochdale was closed due to funding cuts.

From there he made his way down to Brighton. Another man not too far away from the Church did not qualify for the higher rate of housing benefit in another town up North and was made homeless when he couldn't pay his landlord rent. He had a job at Marks and Spencer in his hometown but had to quit since he was without a house and smelt too much. From there, he drifted down to Brighton where the streets are paved with gold.

However, being used as an voluntary BBC researcher did give me a chance to talk to homeless men and women in Brighton. The issue that kept coming up was the local connection policy - something that comes from central Government but which central Government allows local authorities to apply completely at their own discretion - so basically, if the Council like you, they'll let the local connection policy slide. If they don't like you, they won't. It is totally at their discretion.

Another car park with electronic access
A rather disturbing trend I was told by a young homeless man near Brighton Station is that of car parks in the central Brighton area being gated up with electronic passes so that only people who have cars parked there can access the car park. This seems sensible enough, but the fact of the matter is that hitherto these car parks have been used by the homeless as a place to sleep because in the basement floors the temperature is just that one or two degrees higher than on ground floor. You wouldn't think that car parks save lives, but I guess they do, especially in winter. So, knowing there is an issue with homeless people sleeping in car parks, the owners of the car parks have done the noble thing and gated these car parks up in such a way that only car drivers with electronic passes can access the car parks. In the true spirit of Dickensian Britain, the homeless are thus forced upstairs on ground level where its nice and cold. The man who told me this told me he'd lost some friends to overdoses and others to hypothermia. This he told me shivering under a duvet huddled outside a pub near the station.

St Patrick's
Of course, the car parks issue would be mitigated slightly were there a nightshelter in Brighton, but the St Patrick's Nightshelter was closed, leaving St Patrick's only with the hostel section, now run by a housing association, and Brighton's homeless with nowhere to keep warm. I suppose the UN would call this social cleansing by the back door. There is a Church based scheme over winter to house a small portion of Brighton's homeless but these have been handpicked and, I think, basically referred by the Council working with a group called Antifreeze.

Having done some volunteering with that scheme last year, the fact is that only 10 or 12 people make it onto that scheme and the Salvation Army takes up the majority of the homeless. Still, it is also true to say that the homeless population in Brighton is growing - a trend likely to continue under Government cuts in housing benefit and with the forthcoming Universal Credit benefit reform in April.

The fact is that landlords up and down the country are charging exhorbitant rates of rent in the midst of a housing shortage. The housing benefit cap means that those who are under the tenancy regime of landlords charging local authorities high rents will likely be made homeless and those who don't set the rates of rent - the poor - will just be thrown out onto the street in order to find that the local hostels have been closed due to the cuts.

Is this an issue that keeps David Cameron and George Osborne up at night? No, patently it is not, but I dare say it isn't an issue that keeps David Miliband or Nick Clegg or Caroline Lucas up at night either. Obviously, when I meet a homeless person I reassure them that everything will be better once the country has 'gay marriage'. For some reason, they don't appear to be convinced that this is a policy that will benefit them in any way. Are they bigots or something? When rights to housing, shelter, heat and water are removed, I suppose the right to marry another person of the same-sex is perhaps a bit of an elitist right after all. You could be forgiven for thinking that the Government doesn't really have much time for human rights, or human beings for that matter.

In spite of the narrow remit for the BBC's documentary on homelessness and the cuts, I think we could make an argument that all of Brighton's homeless are economically homeless, since none of them can afford to get out of the hostels merry-go round trap, or lift themselves out of poverty and the street and put down a deposit on a flat and not be homeless and utterly dependent on the mercy of a State that couldn't give a flying one what happens to them.

Keep the poor and homeless of your town, locality or city in your prayers, because come 2013, it is expected that the edifice of the 'safety net' of the welfare state will develop significantly bigger holes. Documentaries raising awareness of the fact are good - it is important to educate people about it and God bless the BBC for thinking of doing so. Quite how it helps those at the mercy of the State is another matter.

I did tell the BBC man about Baron Homes and their exploitation of the poor in order to increase their property portfolio in Brighton and beyond, but I doubt the BBC will be interested.  I can't help thinking they are only interested in scoring political points.

Perhaps David Cameron, George Osborne and Ian-Duncan Smith want the Church to take in the homeless and are relying on a huge growth in the monastic vocation in taking in the destitute. That'll be the Church that will most likely lose its charitable status when it refuses to 'marry' persons of the same sex and refuses to ordain women to be priests and Bishops under 'equality law'. It can't be easy for a Government that has inherited a crippled economy and empty coffers in the Treasury, so perhaps it will just be cheaper for them to let the poor and homeless freeze in winter and, hey presto, you've reduced the benefit payments and reduced your population in one fell swoop.


Aaronsc said…
This is brilliant Laurence and really educational. It's a fine thing that you've done here in articulating/ defending the voice of the poor. God bless you for it.

I wonder whether a local/ national newspaper would cover something of what you've written?

I think you should look to April when then new Housing Benefits laws will come in. Then if you are a single person in a two bed flat you will have to pay £11 for the extra room. So if you are not working and on the dole you are £11 down every week. The housing association where I live has suddenly put up adverts for mutual exchanges. I have a feeling there will be many more homeless. Regards

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