homelessness

Legitimate Concerns of the White Working Class

A few days ago, I went to a restaurant with a friend and after the meal we stopped off at a supermarket for some essentials. My date said he’d pop in quickly whilst I smoked my cigarette. Stood at the entrance I noticed a heap on the floor to my right, a young lad maybe no more than 18 with ginger hair and circles under his eyes – malnourished was the word that immediately popped to mind. I dug around in the bottom of my bag for loose change and found £1.70 in coins which I handed to him. It was a particularly blustery evening and his sleeping bag seemed inadequate, the air felt cold and sharp with the coming rain. It wasn’t right that he would have to endure a night like this. I asked him if he had anywhere warm to go and he said he just needed another fiver before he could make that happen.

Now I know some homeless shelters are free. I get that. I understand sometimes it’s not safe for people to stay at these shelters because they are vulnerable and the needs of all service users must be considered. He may have been talking about a cheap hotel, it really didn’t make a difference to me, I pulled out a fiver and handed it over. I said, “I really don’t care where you spend it, honestly, just that you need it and I can give it” and he seemed panicked as though he desperately needed me to believe him when he said it was going towards shelter. I suddenly felt sheepish, in trying to reassure him I’d actually made him paranoid, no doubt because this a conversation he has several times a day, and has had to defend himself against these cruel judgments.

To make things less awkward I decided to go into the store and track my friend down. We met in the queue for the till, there being one customer before us and so I proceeded to tell him about what had just happened. I wasn’t talking loud enough for anyone else to hear, I thought, yet the cashier, an older woman perhaps in her 60s, with a tattoo on her neck that resembled a port wine stain in the shape of a badly drawn daisy, suddenly barked at me “how much did you give him?” My response was equally abrupt, “nothing” I said, confused as to why this woman was inserting herself into my private conversation given that she was still serving the customer in front of us and we most definitely did not invite the interruption. Nonetheless she proceeded to tell me what a mug I was for giving this kid some pocket change, rolling off a bunch of other times customers had given him money including a chap who’d won £120 on a scratch card and she said he’d only go and spend it on drugs.

“GOOD!” I exclaimed, much to her annoyance. “Do you know how cold it is out there? If I can help someone find something that will make the cold night air a bit more bearable, even if it is just drugs, then I’ve done my part. In an ideal world, that kid wouldn’t be on the streets, we’d look after him.”

She didn’t seem pleased at this and started rambling about how he gets into a jeep with some lads and makes at least £50-60 a day and people like me were just encouraging this deception and suddenly the older white man in front of me in the queue pipes up about Brexit and how “it’s a good job we’ve finally left the union” not looking up from his shopping once, brave white knight that he was. My friend and I looked at each other like, what the fuck is going on, we’ve somehow got ourselves embroiled in an argument with Bigots for a Bastard Britain. I knew what Bashful Brave White Man meant, Brexit meant Pakis Out and soon enough there would be no Pakis around to give poor white kids money on the streets, or that once the Pakis were gone, the poor white kids on the street would have jobs and wouldn’t need to beg or something racist, at least, I know this much from his nonsensical interjection and entitlement to my time and efforts. We didn’t validate his pointless contribution with a response, he paid for his groceries and fucked off.

Ratty Old White Lady, seemingly hesitant to accept she had no right to tell me what to do with my money, continued to whinge about nothing until I stopped her and said “there are billionaires in the world hoarding money, the kind of wealth you clearly have no clue about or else you wouldn’t spend your days begrudging a teenager pennies, comparatively speaking, but you won’t challenge them, because you’re twisted and you don’t feel like you’re living unless you’re suffering. They’re laughing at you, and so they should, you haven’t got the first clue” and with this we paid for our things and left the store.

My friend and I seethed all the way home, analysing every little thing that was said before I launched into a diatribe on the state of the white British working class. As a born and bred Britisher, there are, unfortunately, members of my family I could describe in the same way, those who’ve brought into the protestant work ethic and live to work, but suffering is crucial for it to be considered worthy. You can’t do something you enjoy or anything that requires little effort on your part, that’s cheating. My friend is white British middle class and said that he could never say what I had just said because it would sound completely different, my point being, “the white working class is keen to point out how hard they work for the right to call themselves decent hard working folk but I cannot think of any other demographic so lazy and immature in its thinking.”

As a daughter of immigrants, my grandfather was a foreman for British Steel, my father a car mechanic (his work unit in the grounds of a council estate) I am completely wedded to this statement and couldn’t be more justified. I am justified in its application because I have come to detest the double standards and bullshit emanating from the general direction of the supposedly native and legitimately concerned white working class the establishment overlords wheel out to excuse their racist and inhumane policies against other working class people on rainy fascist island. I wish I’d said to badly drawn port wine daisy tattoo lady she was the mug for working at Asda for her £50-60 a day when young homeless lad knew to appeal to those who have more. I wish I’d called Brexit Bigot out when I’d had the chance and told him to jog on.

Stop making excuses for horrible people, I reckon. Stop legitimising their hateful creed, there is nothing virtuous about doing a job that pays you peanuts whilst lining the fat cat’s pockets with your blood sweat and tears. You don’t get a medal for keeping in line, that’s a myth. Stop being such an insufferable serf. Wake the fuck up and acknowledge this life you have as being more precious than the value some narcissist with a trust fund places on it.

Stop being so damn white and undeservedly proud of monstrous attitudes.

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Safe as Houses

Since Refuge announced it might have to close due to excessive funding cuts from the government, we have to question whether the withdrawal of support to such an institution is lawful and whether the local authority has a duty to provide shelter to those at risk of harm.

The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 was the first revision of DV legislation in over 30 years and put in place new powers to support victims at risk of or fleeing domestic abuse, through the courts and police e.g making common assault an arrestable offence and breaching of non-molestation orders, a criminal offence. It implemented a framework from which all agencies could follow a code of practice to ensure all victims were given adequate support and protection.

This was an enhancement to existing legislation – Housing Act 1998 and Homelessness Act 2002 – which aimed to prevent further incidents of abuse by providing an interim duty to accommodate;  an admission that where there may be reason to believe (a verbal declaration should suffice) a person is believed to be at risk of homelessness due to domestic abuse and it is not reasonable to occupy their current premises, the local authority has a duty of care to establish whether they are in priority need (under section 184 Housing Act) and eligible for assistance.

In my experience as a DV worker, priority need differed from one city/borough to the next. Single women without children were not considered in this category and as such, their only recourse to safe accommodation came in the form of a refuge. Even in cases where a service user had come to the end of their license agreement, whereupon they would become unintentionally homeless, local authorities would refuse to accept they had duty of care, suggesting that we move the survivor on to another refuge. So much for Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 – The right to privacy, family life, home and correspondence.

The role of a refuge is to provide temporary accommodation, a halfway house before suitable, permanent accommodation is allocated. As a rule, all the women passing through safe houses should submit homelessness applications on arrival, because they are in fact, unintentionally homeless. If, for whatever reason, the service user could not remain at the refuge, she was then considered to be intentionally homeless and as a result, not eligible for assistance. Survivors were being manipulated into staying at refuges.

I had a case once where the survivor was at an immediate risk of homicide. Police reports had been taken, her injuries photographed. She had been viciously attacked and her small children witnessed it taking place. Social services were involved. We were in the process of securing an injunction. A clear-cut case if ever there was one. Yet the local authority disallowed her application because the worker believed she was lying about her disclosure.  They simply did not believe her. She had presented with a hospital report but this was not enough. However, she was sent away with a list of refuges whom she would  have to call herself along with the advice that she may be in a refuge for up to 3 years, after which she would no longer be deemed priority need Band A and would be demoted to that of non-priority Band C. The housing worker suggested to my client that if she were to approach a refuge, the local authority might be more inclined to believe she was telling the truth. Despite the reams of paperwork and evidence suggesting she and her children were at an increased risk of homicide. Eventually, a multi-agency approach imcluding me and her social worker was successful in demonstrating the local authority did have a duty of care to “safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need” (Children Act 1989) which includes providing accommodation.

Essentially there are 3 options when fleeing:

  • Homelessness application
  • Transferring tenancy from current premises to another borough
  • Refuge

Local housing lists are stretched beyond their limits, many more people presenting at Homeless Needs Units than there are properties available. In order to transfer tenancy, another must become available. As a result, many women are forced to stay in hostile situations. Or approach a refuge.

The Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities states (paragraph 16.27):

“Housing authorities should develop close links with women’s refuges within their district… However, housing authorities should recognise that placing an applicant in a refuge will generally be a temporary expedient only, and a prolonged stay could block a bed that was urgently needed by someone else at risk. Refuges should be used to provide accommodation for the minimum period necessary before alternative suitable accommodation is secured elsewhere.  Housing authorities should not delay in securing alterative accommodation in the hope that the applicant might return to her partner.”

If Refuge are forced to close their doors, where will the non-priority, supposedly intentionally homeless survivors of domestic abuse go? Local authorities will no longer be able to place duty of care at their door. A system that has already collapsed under the strain cannot conceivably provide additional support. How will local authorities cope with a drastic increase in homelessness applications? Will they have temporary accommodation in place for women who urgently need to flee? Where will they find the stock to re-house these urgent cases?

There are no answers to these questions because we cannot magic provision out of thin air.