When I think about it and whether I like it or not (but I do). I have become involved, connected and concerned with a whole community of street people, rough sleepers, drug addicts and of course alcoholics; they are young, they are old, some have flats, stay in hostels and now as the night shelters start opening doors to the homeless this winter as the weather outlook takes us into the colder stream of things, thankfully then, these friends have somewhere to sleep in a warm safe place with an evening meal to boot here in Newham.
It is no mistake that I chose to write about my locality here in Canning Town North - When I take a stroll down the Barking Road, and often do I think and ponder the very thought, that I feel like the luckiest person in the world, and strange as it may seem to some, but this is where I want to be more than anything. I just love the place, and feel that it has become apart of me and I am apart of it.
In 1855 Albert Dickens, the Brother of the famous Victorian writer Charles Dickens, described this `Living Hell`. He wrote of Canning town “It was impossible to describe the miserable state Canning Town is in: there is neither drainage nor paving and in winter the streets were impassable, with Cholera raging in this area”.
Thankfully today such a `Living Hell is a thing of the past; however, there are still some very serious issues that whilst starting to show up on the radar, but as ever being ignored by the local authority, the plight of homeless people is such an issue, and if you like its a ‘Living Hell on its own for many.
Only today (Saturday) I visited the Memorial Church in Padstow on the Barking Road, where the church and a small band of dedicated volunteers served up 82 cooked breakfasts, a full English at that and with a choice of porridge or and a cereal, you can’t beat it. Whilst I was at the Memorial I did a few interviews with users and volunteers, so there will be more about this fantastic church very soon, only to add that the church is participating in a rovering program with other churches in Newham that are providing night shelter accommodation to the homeless this winter; more on this when I gather more information and have permission to make a visit.
Two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 20-25 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty, coupled to government policy that has failed working people unable to find appropriate accommodation when the banks, the lenders, the market is made king, and the truth is that both Labour and the Tories, this coalition are to blame especially the obsession it has with austerity.
Many on the left in this country don't seem to understand the crisis that now exists, they like to come up with all manor of grandy ideas, a march for jobs, the right to work, stop the war and so on, the list is endless and they never seem to be able to grasp the nettle by it’s roots when it comes to housing and the awful plight of homeless people.
The housing charity Shelter published a report recently revealing a picture of homelessness in England. More than 80,000 children face spending this Christmas in temporary accommodation, a 10-year high. In the context of a government crowing about job creation and the economy "healing", this may appear shocking. As someone who was homeless for a decade and more, I do not find the figures in the least surprising. Nor, I should emphasise, are they entirely representative. They are simply a snapshot of the families that currently fall under a local authority's restrictive definition of homeless. They do not take into account people dependent on the charity and sofa of a friend (I have one at the moment) or relative, nor those who hide their status in shame – over 40% of rough sleepers hide their circumstances.
The other day I met a 69 year old pensioner who is homeless here in Newham. I don’t know what others think but I was horrified that this frail old man is having to seek shelter at the church this winter - comrades words fail me and yes I shed tears!