There is a fate worse than homelessness. I pondered this as I looked at the images of charred Grenfell Tower. Now the world’s highest cemetery. I know from my own experience, from the experience of my brothers and sisters on the streets, that you are never more in danger than when you are in the ‘care’ of the local housing authority. At least on the streets you are assured that you are not safe and you know to keep your eyes in the back of your head, unlike those poor souls at Grenfell who fell for the lie.
I had a nice room in Newbury Park. After two and a half weeks standing in Waltham Forest Housing with my bags, from 9.30am to 5.30pm, waiting for my ‘case worker’ to come and see me. Paying the transport costs to drag my bags across London, I finally got a place. It was horrible in those queues. You are feeling your own agony but also absorbing the pain of those other poor souls around you. This man was there last time I was in, Somali I think, with his wife. He needed to give the council a photocopy of his passport. He did. Six times. And six times they ‘lost’ it. Now he faced losing his home. He began to cry and shout. DON’T shout. You’ll be straight back at the back of the queue. ‘Where are my human rights?’ he screamed. I rubbed his shoulder and told him the truth. ‘Mate, you don’t have any. Get used to it and get ready for the fight of your life.’ In those dreadful two and a half weeks I only saw my ‘case worker’ once. She dragged me to reception and asked me to explain my predicament. ‘I’m homeless, traumatised, frightened to death, occasionally contemplating suicide and now being asked to say all this in front of a long line of people behind me because YOU can’t grant me the dignity of a private room in which I can express my distress.’ She marched off and I never saw her again. But I did get to know the people who worked downstairs. Lovely folk. Human beings. Dan told me I was the joint-nicest ‘customer’ they’d ever had in there. On the thirteenth day of this ordeal they saw me start to break and, apparently they used the ’emergency’ word. I was housed that night.
And I lived there for five and a half months. Happy times, comparably. Then they moved a Muslim fundamentalist homophobe, one month out of a mental hospital, into the room next door to me. He threatened to kill me because he wasn’t so keen on gay people. I wasn’t so bothered by that. I’d have kicked his arse. But I refused to live next door to someone who calls me ‘unnatural’. I have many faults, but that’s not one of them…
I marched down to Waltham Forest the next day, and they rehoused me, in my old manor, Leytonstone. On Bulwer Road. Back to my old stomping ground. I was happy. It was a hostel but I’m not fussy, so long as people are nice. What they omitted to tell me was that everybody else in the hostel, apart from me, was on crack or smack. On the first night I was up until 5am disarming a crackhead with a knife. This perturbed me somewhat. I spoke to the manager and asked her to please not put any more drug addicts in my room. That night I met my good friend Gavin and his wife for supper and then went back to the hostel. As I was walking in they were putting a bloke into my shared room. ‘Is he on drugs?’ I asked warily. ‘No he’s a good guy. Look after him,’ they told me. I did. Several hours later I was disarming a violent smackhead who nicked my mobile phone and lots of my money. On the next night I dragged my bags down to Stratford shopping centre. It was safer there. Most of them down there don’t do that shit, hence the fact that they don’t get homes. I could tell you more. I will later….
Grenfell is a horrible indictment of the country I used to call home. Now I largely loathe it. It would be nice to believe that those poor souls who perished on that night, at least have been sacrificed so that some compassion, morality, heck – love – might come into housing policy. But I shan’t be holding my breath. At least the Grenfell residents will eventually get a bodycount. There are probably a couple of Grenfells every week across our major cities. People with promise dying needlessly because of government rules which are not so much parsimonious as vindictive. These deaths will largely go unreported. But as they bury the victims of Grenfell, many others, left for dead by society will be being slung into unmarked graves from the top to the toe of ‘Great’ Britain.