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.