This month, Paul Atherton takes over Jimmy’s Corner with a reflection on the recent Streetsfest – a gathering of groups and people last week where the Museum of Homelessness began to make it’s first ever banner. Paul is a TV producer and is also part of the Catalyst programme.
The Streetsfest in Finsbury Park on Monday 10th September was half support services, half music festival and half Homeless Expo and I haven’t got my maths wrong, that was it’s fundamental problem today, not being quite sure what it wanted to be yet.
The fact that such events exist at all is an amazing testament to some brilliant Londoners who sacrifice time and effort to support others in their community and under no circumstances should they be undervalued for their contribution.
But there was something slightly unpalatable as the likes of Crisis, Shelter and Thames Reach housed tables and Gazebo housed stands, sales tactic style, which as mentioned earlier all felt very trade Expo. I’ve been to many trade fairs, and there, like here, it’s hard to understand why anyone would engage in this manner.
The constant need for people to hand you leaflets and information was terrifyingly familiar to anyone who’d approached a council for emergency assistance with housing. Here’s some paper, with links to some website that put you in touch with… well, yet more organisations, that are going to recommend you to yet more organisations to get in touch with.
Be under no illusion, Homelessness is big business for the Third Sector and the more pillar to post, the more each organisation can increase their funding.
My contribution to the MoH tableaux was the word “Process” spray painted on three times decaying in it’s clarity with each iteration, which was meant to refer to the soul destroying process of traipsing through all this bureaucracy, over and over again and getting precisely nowhere.
Whenever anybody offers me a leaflet, it tells me two things, 1) they’ve never been homeless, because if they had been they’d know, nobody wants to add weight to whatever their carrying, they’re already dragging their entire lives around in carrier bags or holdalls and have pared it down to it’s lightest components already and 2) they’re not in the least bit interested in addressing or solving my problems.
The issue with a leaflet is it’s dismissive. Here’s some information. If the information was useful I would have found it on the internet already. But I’m not looking for information, I’m looking for assistance.
People often used to criticise me for not reaching out to people on my first bout of homelessness. I took heed of that on my second and quickly realised my first instincts were right.
Logic dictates that the first thing you want if you’re street homeless is a quick easy way to get inside. A hotel room seems the most logical. When Travelodge & Premier Inn’s used to offer £25 per night room rates they were perfect but nothing remotely like that exists anymore and there was certainly no sign of a Homeless Hotel stand in the vicinity of today’s events.
I could get support to quit smoking though (most non-smokers quickly take to smoking to survive the street, it’s a form of currency, boredom busting, appetite suppressing, alcohol reducing and stress releasing. controlled breathing stick), chill out in a Yurt (if I’d been a woman or possibly just identified as such – as it was Women Only) or get to see a Dentist who obviously having looked at your teeth would refer you to another Dentist (as they didn’t have the facilities there to do treatments)..
But these Homeless Brands dotted around the site seemed pointless, tokenistic and actually totally out of keeping with the whole event. BUT.. I suspect they were there for political reasons and little if anything to do with actually being supportive for attendees and more about bridge building with local authorities and housing departments.
Though personally homeless, I’d only gone specifically to support the Museum of Homelessness stand, something that not only do I think is a wonderful idea (and why I’m part of the Catalyst programme they are currently running) but that has an essential need to reach out to the very people they are archiving.
I would have avoided the event otherwise, because for me, there’s nothing more demeaning than having your teeth looked at in back room of an old office, surrounded by boxes and debris. If you really want to know how society judges those who are homeless, come to an event for the Homeless.
I avoid these situations like the plague. It often means I don’t get dental or medical care, but I’d rather spend £3 nursing a coffee for the whole day in a Hubbard & Bell (the cafe attached to the Hoxton Hotel) to keep my sanity. Once I cross this border of backroom dentistry, I know it’s the erosion of all hope for me.
Of course the biggest irony of holding out in a hotel lobby, is I know most nights as I head to Heathrow Airport to sleep upright on plastic chairs in the chilly doorways of terminal 5, that I’ve more than likely left a building with a ton of empty comfortable bedrooms, that I could be sleeping in instead, if only the Hotel saw a way of being charitable or the state allowed me to use Housing Benefit to pay to stay there.
Streetsfest is an amazement though, a build it, they will come approach to reaching out to support the homeless.
The organisation behind it Streets Kitchen have a mantra that should permeate through all Homeless support institutions be they charities, Third Sector Organisations or just the volunteering general public, which is “Solidarity Not Charity”.
If everyone took that approach Streetsfest would be an annual event celebrating the end of homelessness and all those there would be housed and those Expo style stands superfluous to requirements… and if they’d gone, there’d certainly be dancing in the streets then…well, at least by me 🙂