Thursday, 10 March 2016

York Update: Police Harassment Of Street Homeless

Well comrades and friends all - this is my final week here in York and this will in all probability be my final update for this page and from such a  beautiful city - and although - I suspect, that if you was to ask one of the homeless people who “rough sleep”  on these here streets, what they thought of York, they may recant and withdraw from having any opinion either way, they are far too busy trying to survive, just to continue to live and exist takes up most of one's time and is a job of work in itself of that I can now vouch, assert and confirm for having experienced the daily struggle for myself.  

Although it's been very cold out especially at night with temperatures dropping to -1 or -2 it's been a very rewarding and revealing experience in many different ways.  

I have met many different people and from all walks of life, the street homeless of course, the North Yorkshire Police, the Salvation Army outreach team and other homeless agencies specialising so they claim in helping the street homeless here in York,and of course, there numbers are growing, you can see it daily and you can feel it all around you.

There Is Nothing Good To Say About York’s Homeless Agencies 

I have nothing good to say about those agencies and indeed there is nothing good to say about them. They work hand in glove with the police and the local Tory run council to try and eradicate, if not try to a-raise out of sight those of us who now call the streets our home here in the great tourist city of York. 

Police Crackdown On The Street  Homeless 

Currently the police are running an operation to stamp out Street Begging or as I like to call it by the American term of Panhandling which sounds more friendly, and as I partake in this activity myself as a means not only of support for I don't claim any state benefits, but it is also a way of reaching out to the greater community and to have a conversation that's very much needed that breaks downs the locked doors of prejudices and hostilities towards the the street homeless which is very much still prevalent in our society today.

Society’s Message 

Society's message to the homeless is abundantly clear: You don't matter, because you don't have money. 

There are so many ways to get down on your luck, or become homeless, and so few means to escape. 

Economic inequality and a system built to perpetuate it is the problem - homelessness is the result for people without a safety net and a safety net that is being taken away from everyone.

And a rising economic tide doesn't lift all boats - it merely drowns the poor.

It's understood that most people in life aren't going to be high-wage earners but that doesn't mean working people and human beings should have to live or exist on our streets like they do here in York and in many other towns and cities up and down the country.

In York the authority's have been clever so they think, they don't allow or encourage any move to provide  facilities for rough sleepers to take a shower or to look after personal hygiene and change clothing 

Having said that there is one place where a cooked breakfast of sorts is provided and has a clothing store open 6 mornings for under 3 hours, however this establishment is often visited by the police who I've seen take down notes of who is present, this all amounts to harassment in my book and what I call a contrived policy of containment.

Plainclothes Officers Deployed 

Last night plainclothes officers were wondering the streets trying to catch out those of us who panhandle and on Saturday last I was told by sitting on the step to the shop where I sleep it is conducive to Begging and the officer's words were: “that I was “making a certain situation or outcome likely or possible.”

Last year the police took 20 people to court for sitting on the steps of shops, they were all thrown out of court

There is I realise much more to say and record about the situation here in York, so maybe another post will be up before the weekend when I return to London briefly for the march against the Tory Housing and Planning Bill.

So until then comrades and friends all - I send you all my best wishes from the city of York.

Norbert Lawrie - And you can follow Homeless London on facebook

Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Archbishop of York Sleeps In A Palace Whilst The Street Homeless Are Harassed By The Police.

Well comrades and friends all - my fourth week in this charming city of York, is now rapidly drawing to a close, with only 2 weeks remaining before my return journey back to London, I must say and without any exaggeration, what a revelation it has been and from a street point of view of course.

I’ve made many new friends and acquaintances, some good and some not so good, in particular, and I’m thinking about the local city centre police. They the North Yorkshire Police are the constabulary that runs this neck of the woods and the city centre.

My first contact with them came almost immediately and instantly on arrival when I decided because of the lateness of the evening and because I did not know or was I familiar with the city, to set up my skip (get my head down) across the road from the railway station.

As if and by magic, a police car pulled up and outstep a female PSO who preceded to ask me for my details, name, date of birth and so on, at first I refused politely to furnish her with anything, as I know from experience that it is my right to say ‘No’.

However this enthusiastic officer then threatened me to my complete horror with a full police search and said she would send for assistance a proper police officer to assist in a search, being somewhat tired I thought it better to give her my details so as to get my head down, which I did after they had left.

Saying ‘No’ to a police officer is still a right, and of course ‘No’ does not mean that you have anything to hide, I had the right to leave always, as she or any officer for that matter could not hold or detain me unless they said what it was for and why, and I knew if detained that I had the right to speak to a lawyer privately and without any delay, but because I had just got off the train and was as I say tired I thought it was just best to appease, placate and accede to their demands on this occasion only.

It has become over the course of my stay in York, quite apparent to me now, that a great deal of harassment and aggressive pressure is applied upon those who are unfortunately street homeless, and amid a growing sense of ‘crisis’ in street homelessness that is taking place and now unneeded intimidation being perpetrated by a team of PSOs including this young officer who I see regularly on the street.

I am convinced that this is a deliberate policy of containment of the homeless crisis in York and indeed in North Yorkshire. We know that HUNDREDS of Yorkshire families are living in temporary accommodation, and housing campaigners have warned that England is “sleepwalking into a homelessness crisis”, which to a certain extent is manifesting itself onto the streets and amongst the single homeless population which is more visible to all.   

High private-sector rents and cuts to housing benefits are large to blame, it’s almost the same story as I left behind in London and with a degree but not quite the same gentrification thrown in that’s still taking place and having preceded that of London.

It’s obvious that the local council and previous administrations have pandered to accommodate the local business community, the tourism and service sector.  They have assisted and presided over the decline of working class communities, this has been perpetuated by the decline also of the confectionery, railway and engineering industries and left in its place a university and tourist industry.

Hard To Survive On York’s Streets

It’s hard enough to survive on the streets of York without the added burden of the police constantly on one's back day and night.

In most major cities and towns around the country as winter applies its bitter bite, winter shelters for the homeless are organised and opened up providing safe warm shelter as from the elements, but here in York, nothing is on offer, it’s not even thought about, not even by the establishment clergy of the great York Cathedral with its so-called radical John Sentamu the Archbishop of York, and a senior bishop in the Church of England, second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The one thing I do know is that the Archbishop has a nice home that comes with the job, Bishopthorpe Palace is a stately home sometimes called by the locals as “ the Archbishop’s Palace.

It is then astonishing and astounding that the numbers of those forced to sleep rough is going up in the UK and in this the 21 Century - and this is not yet I fear the tip of the iceberg.

I have no idea if the Archbishop has any idea or is he aware that there are homeless people sleeping in and around the Cathedral at night and it's quite cold (-2 for the last two evenings) in the open where I was able to capture two images that accompany this post, one at the back of the Cathedral and the other taken in the park at the war memorial across the way.

Well, I think I will leave my update here for the time being comrades and friends, with more to come soon thanks for following us on Homeless London.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

A Portrait Of York With A View From The Street

If there is one city in England capable of demanding our attention, pulling our thoughts in different directions, stimulating our moods and thrilling our senses, then the ancient city of York must surely be it.

With its almost intact medieval walls surrounding its ancient heart, York is a city on a human scale, which somehow wraps itself around you. The straddling River Ouse, which made the news most recently when it’s banks burst and flowed and drifted uninhibited into parts of the city just like the invading Vikings, Romans, and Anglo-Saxons of old.

I’ve been in York for almost 3 weeks now, for no particular reason I decided to get off a train from Kings Cross, London and take a look around the city to find out for myself how the street homeless are managing and to try to capture a mental understanding and picture of what it's like to be homeless in York, and if you like rootless in modern 21st century Britain and particularly in this time of austerity.

I have resolved some time ago to become a modern day George Orwell or indeed even like my own favorite writer Jack London - for those of you who are not familiar with London’s works he wrote a first-hand account of poverty and homelessness by living in the East End of London in 1902. London’s account came about by living in the East End amongst the very poor and homeless for several months, sometimes staying in workhouses or sleeping on the streets. The conditions he experienced and wrote about were the same as those endured by an estimated 500,000 of the contemporary London poor.

Living In The 21st Century

I am of course living in the modern 21st century and indeed a great deal has changed since Orwell and London lived, moved and mingled with the poor and homeless of their respective times. Both were very talented writers and recorders of historical facts and indeed were able to bring to the attention of the world the suffering of the poor, dispossessed and deprived in what many may feel were far harsher times.

We may not be drenched as of yet in such a harsh white neon light of such poverty, but arguably, it may only be a question of time and such an onslaught has been gathering apace especially under this government and its obsession with austerity.

Homelessness And People Of The Streets

I have always taken a very keen interest in homelessness and its victims and its modern trajectory. I’ve worked in paid employment in the past and I’ve campaigned over many years to try and bring an end to the misery and distress that it (having no abode) inflicts on many a life both for the young and old alike.

I’ve lived on the street for many years now and have become streetwise whilst trying to reach out to others, sometimes in vain and sometimes with limited successes over the last 34 years.

They have been limited in success and accomplishment as I can see that homelessness is still a blight on lives and which is getting worse, a disease on and of our society.
Often I find myself asking one question over and over again, why do we in this so-called civilized society in the fifth richest nation in the world allow people to be thrown out onto the streets like the rubbish of the early 19th century when sewage ran through the streets and polluted the wells of drinking water?

Questions that reside in the far corners of my mind, then ever so often, reverberate, repeated and echo off in my head.

The Streets Have Become An Increasingly Dangerous Place To Be Homeless

I’ve been quite quick to establish a relationship with the street homeless here in York, mostly situated in the center of the city, their life and existence, the fact or state of living is an extremely hard one, many survive and continue to live or exist, especially in spite of danger or hardship by making a living from begging, and it is dangerous no exaggeration here.
During the daytime this lovely picturesque and the visually attractive streets are full of shoppers, day-trippers, and tourists, then in midweek an evening transformation takes place as the city becomes a swinging drinking giant nightclub, pubs and bars fill up and music fills the cobbled, wobbly streets and soon the first drunks start to appear sometimes quite early, young girls with next to nothing on struggling with their stilettos on the cobbles, a window is smashed a fight is taken place between two young men who know no better and the police arrive to make the arrests.

This drunken ritual is played out every weekend and in and amongst it all is this hard working community of homeless people trying as they do to make a shilling or two just to get by.
I am reminded that homeless people are 13 times more likely to be the victims of some violent crimes than the general public.

I also concur with what Orwell said about the homeless when he wrote: “When one has consorted with them and found that they are ordinary human beings, one cannot help being struck by the curious attitude that society takes towards them,” George Orwell in his 1933 memoir, Down and Out in Paris and London.

With only three weeks remaining before I return to London I will be updating my reports from York on a regular basis, I have only started to scratch the surface more to come comrades.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

An Ideological And Planned Attack On Housing

The importance of the coming year for housing cannot be overstated or exaggerated: So much now hangs in the balance with untold and dire consequences for many tens of thousands and generations to come  as parliament and the Tory government rearrange in the interests of the marketplace our social housing   

Experts in housing law, academia and the housing sector now almost a majority, agree that this week's passage of the government's controversial Housing & Planning bill if nothing else drives in that old favorite Tory rusty nail a little further into that same coffin first used by Margaret Thatcher, to berry and bring to an end, the provision of social and in particular the end of the council home. The right-to-buy was a flagship policy of the Conservative prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who launched it in 1980 to allow so it was claimed at the time, that social tenants would be able to own their own homes. In the first three decades about 2m council properties were sold, but during the financial crisis, the figure fell to less than 2,500 a year. Let's never forget; that many former council properties ended up on the books and portfolios of private landlords the real beneficiaries of the right to buy.

“Sometimes one turns over a stone in a garden or field and sees the slimy creatures which live under its protection. This is what has happened in these past weeks”.  Harold Wilson on private landlords 1963

An Ideological And Planned Attack

The end of lifetime tenancies for people living in what remains of council housing is deliberately ideological and an attack on secure and affordable homes, not to mention the forced sale of high-value council homes once tenants move on or die will further deplete stock. The focus on starter homes shows that those in government are refusing to heed warnings about our affordability crisis in renting and ownership, pretending and claiming that the only problem is simply supply.

The Fight For Social Housing Lost.

Is the fight for social housing as we consider it to have been in the past and present tense, now lost?     

This was indeed a question, that has been and I dare say, possibly, running around many a housing activists head following last Tuesday's debate and vote, incidentally, the first time that Scotlands MPs were prohibited from voting on an English-only bill of legislation in this parliament.  Just to also add that the right to buy having been abolished in Scotland, in fact, the 'Right to Buy' will end for all council and housing association tenants in Scotland on 1 August 2016. Tenants with a right to buy that they are allowed to use will have until 31 July 2016.

Speaking for only myself and as a housing activist of over 30 years standing, I felt physical, mentally flattened and devastated at the news that the bill was supported with what some would describe; as a healthy government majority. The third reading began controversially enough, just before 9 pm on 5 January, with shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods, Labour MP for the City of Durham, questioning why the bill had been brought back for debate on 5 January when it had to be fitted around four statements.

Blackman-Woods expressed concern regarding the little time available to discuss the contentious parts of the bill.

“Never in my experience of many bills in this House have I witnessed 65 pages of government new clauses and amendments being produced at the last minute for a bill that is 145 pages long. That is simply appalling and means that there will be no proper scrutiny in this House of almost a third of the bill.”

Whether to continue with the reading was then put to a vote, with MPs voting 303 to 195 in favour of doing so. The government used Labour turmoil and a Corbyn style reshuffle, along with the tactic of staged timing, starting late and debating into the early hours of the following day to force the bill onto the Lords.

Of Labour, it has to be said; the opposition was very piss poor and this is reflected no more so than in the government’s housing and planning bill  when it  reached report stage and was debated in the Commons, whilst the Labour front bench gave very little and emitted to put up a good enough convincing defence, even though Corbyn and McDonnald attend an evening meeting with activists in the commons.

The Labour Party never forget; initially proposed the idea of the right of tenants to own the house they live in, in its manifesto for the 1959 General Election which it subsequently went on and lost.

The Protest

On Tuesday amid protest, from many housing activists and concern from social housing professionals. A small well-meaning protest took place on the other side of the road from the House of Lords. In the range of about 400 people from across the housing spectrum and orbit; we came together in an attempt to protest and draw some attention, in fact, this self-serving piece of legislation by the most odious and revolting bastards in the Tory Party will probably just worsen these already sickening statistics.

Home Ownership Dream

The “Home Ownership Dream” is just one big con to increase the wealth of the richest in society. Extending the right to buy to housing association properties is an unashamedly dangerous policy, showing no care for the 1.3 million households it may prove disastrous for.

And none of this addresses two of the biggest disgraces’ of our age – the number of households on social housing waiting lists (1.4 million in 2014, while only 43,000 new homes were built), and the shocking 55% increase in homelessness since David Cameron assumed office in 2010.

Evicts The Pensioner And Kills Sheltered Housing

This Government in its infinite lack of anything approaching wisdom has decided to evict thousands of pensioners in Liverpool who live in sheltered housing – and in almost every other area of the country too – apart from London.

The housing benefit paid to sheltered housing social tenants in Liverpool is around £50 per week higher at £140 than the housing benefit paid to a private tenant, called LHA, in a 1-bed property broadly equating to sheltered housing and which is set at a maximum of £90.90 per week.

The Government has decided to limit the maximum housing benefit paid to this LHA maximum of £90 per week from 2018 and this will affect all new sheltered tenants from April 2016 who will then have to find the £50 per week difference from their state pension, other income or savings else be evicted for arrears.

Homeless Hostels Will Close

Liverpool will also soon have no hostels or shelter for those who are homeless because of Government policy first mentioned in the Autumn Statement in November 2015.

Liverpool will soon have no refuge shelters as they too along with sheltered housing, homeless services and all existing provision will close and can never re-open and note well the same will happen nationally in every town and city as figures elsewhere will be and are similar.

Liverpool homeless hostels HB figures are in the public domain and the Conservative’s new policy will see a number of housing benefits fall from £5 million per year to £2 million per year – A £3 million and 60% cut in housing benefits funding which means the absolute closure of homeless provision. We have used Liverpool as an example here but this is set to happen all around the country, the result of which will see many more people driven onto our streets with no provision whatsoever for the homeless now amassing.

During The Last Year, The Homeless Start To Hit Back

From small beginnings grow mighty oak trees - That's how we see a fightback coming and developing in the next year. In some respects, that fightback may have already started to feel for a firmer stronger footing, if we take the examples recently of homeless people challenging local authorities by campaigning to open empty buildings during the winter months such as in Liverpool, Manchester and now Nottingham, and of course, in many other places with the help of many supporters that runs right across any divide, I say that because having read many a local newspaper who commit inches and inches of print to painting the homeless as the problem and focusing on building, on the dark art of stereotyping wrongly the average homeless person.

As a homeless person, as a group of homeless people who run this page on facebook, we intend to be part of that fight and play our part in building it and we hope to look at the possibilities that exist in part 2.

Norbert Lawrie

The Socialist Way

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