Saturday, 28 December 2013

the abyss

Oh boy, the day before Christmas Eve and,  what a start to Christmas, the weather and, the power of the elements of nature, should be a reminder that man has no control over nature, or at least just yet that is.

The ancient Greeks believed that there were four elements that everything was made up of: earth, water, air, and fire. This theory was suggested around 450 BC, and it was later supported and added to by Aristotle. (Aristotle also suggested that there was a fifth element, aether, because it seemed strange that the stars would be made out of earthly elements. He would indeed be surprised to learn that they are in fact made up of many elements found on earth, and are so hot they could be said to be on fire all the time!).

Three people have died and millions have been stranded as the UK battles against torrential rain and gale force winds, and (pardon my pun) just to bring home the turkey. However my thoughts are with these who have lost loved ones, and what a tragedy just before the holiday starts.

Millions of people struggling to get home in time for Christmas after the violent storm and winds of up to 87 mph resulted in road closures and delays on railway lines, ports and airports across the whole country.

And with damage to power lines, 6000 homes were reported to be without electricity.

There was 57 flood warnings and 218 flood alerts put in place across the country, with Met Office forecasters issuing a severe weather warning due to 90mph winds and flooding caused by the torrential rain.

All of this is a reminder to me just how fortunate and lucky I am and, compared to many others; and what value I place in my council flat, the shelter, the warmth, the security and safety that it provides me with, is something that I should never take for granted.

I have of course, in my past been homeless, so my council flat has real importance and worth to me, something that I’m not prepared to let go of in any kind of a hurry. So I know from my own experience what it is like to be homeless at this time of the year, and must say as well as all year around, its not fun or any lighthearted pleasure, trust me. And it’s made that much harder if you are single and alone. I can only describe it as nothing more that your worst nightmare and, when you wake up you are still without a home.

The whole experience changes you, if you are fortunate to get off the streets and get out of the other side, you may find as I did that you are not the same person who fell into the Abyss, that deep and seemingly bottomless chasm. Today, and as I have said in many a post in regard to homelessness on this blog, many are now unable to grasp that rope that will lead them out of the darkness, because its been cut. The one thing that we can say about this coalition government and its austerity politics, is that it has been like rubbing salt into the wounds of those without a home, and made much worse now when you consider that many will never be able to escape a life on the streets because of the deep cuts and a shortage of social housing and, if anything government policy is driving many more onto our streets, a human mess of real misery which will take many years to clear up, providing we have a government committed to tackling the problem and restoring some sort of housing justice, if there can be any such thing in capitalism of which, I very much have my own doubts about.

In the meantime I just want to mention the homeless organisation which is known as ‘Crisis’ who have opened and organised Christmas centers with an army of volunteers (8,000) around the country to feed and in some cases provide for rough sleepers with beds, warmth and shelter over the festive period.

Of all the homeless organisations this is the one I salute the most, because they do much more for the homeless person than anyone else, it’s not just about feeding the homeless at Christmas, although that's very important at what can be a very lonely time of the year for many, but they operate all year round providing much needed support and help, they are indeed on the front line holding up many an individual whose misfortune it is to be homeless.

More than 4,000 vulnerable people have visited Crisis centres over Christmas, the charity opened centres in London, Newcastle and Edinburgh, for the festive period.
It says that young people are most at risk, with the number of under-25s sleeping rough in London, for example, more than doubled in three years.

New research  from Crisis suggests eight per cent of under-25s have experienced homelessness in England, since 2008.

The statistics are clear – homelessness is continuing to rise. Failures in the housing system are playing a critical underlying role. House building remains at low levels, leaving a growing shortfall against new household formation. With already substantial levels of overcrowding, concealed and sharing households, many are left unable to find a room even to rent, never mind own a home of their own. The private rented sector is being relied on to meet housing demand yet is failing in too many instances – ending of an assured shorthold tenancy is now the leading cause of statutory homelessness in London.

Rising homelessness is a story not just of economic pressure but of political choices with the cuts to Local Housing Allowance, extension of the Shared Accommodation Rate, the removal of the spare room subsidy (sometimes referred to as the “bedroom tax”), and overall benefit cap of particular concern and having real impacts across the country. In addition, services for those who are homeless are being cut, the safety net previously provided by social housing and the homelessness legislation reduced, with benefit sanctions risking severe hardship, including the threat of destitution.

The burden is being felt disproportionately by younger people and by the most vulnerable. Worryingly for the first time in this report those who have experienced domestic violence are flagged as an area of concern.

With new analysis identifying that nearly one in ten adults have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives this is a situation that demands focus and attention. The researchers are clear that we are still only beginning to identify the impacts of changes to the social security system on individuals and households and ultimately in the numbers facing or experiencing homelessness.

I have been able to visit the Christmas centre in South London and whilst I am still talking to people at this time I will be publishing a post very shortly so please stay tuned in to this blog for a full account to come.

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