Park Life

Being homeless is like being a refugee in your own land. Refugees have camps. Why do homeless people not have homeless camps? We are, after all, internal refugees. Refugees from years of government greed and neglect of the housing crisis in our country, neglect of mental health services, neglect of simple, decent human standards of behaviour that should say that your fellow man or woman is your brother or sister. Not somebody left out in the rain to die. Refugees from greed. Now the chickens are all coming home to roost and it ain’t pretty. It’s gonna get far, far uglier…

There is, of course, a reason why there are no Homeless Camps. There is a reason why we cannot take our tents to Valentine’s Park and pitch up there at night, away from the casual violence of the streets. It is foolhardy to sleep there alone, but if all the homeless people of Ilford went to sleep there together, tonight, they would be out of the hair of Marks and Spencer, not making the place look untidy. And they could look out for one another.

So why do the police harass and threaten people who sleep there, confiscating and ripping up their tents?

Big problems deserve big solutions. Would it not make sense to requisition a public park in London or Manchester or any of our big cities and hand it over to our homeless brothers and sisters. Charities could provide portaloos, showers. Groups that care for homeless people would KNOW where to find them, as they wouldn’t be scattered all over their cities. Food could be brought by people who care. Tents could be provided. In the winter, extra blankets, hot water bottles. It is a simple and logical short term solution.

But there is a reason why homeless people are not allowed to gather and sleep in our public parks (even though ridiculous 1980’s revivalist festivals are allowed to set up up shop there over a number of days, as are circuses and fairgrounds). If even one London park was to declare itself a safe zone for homeless people, then they would all gather there. Then we would finally see the scale of the humanitarian disaster facing our country and our cities. People would be, rightly, horrified. The numbers of homeless people exceed the estimated numbers by a country mile. And in one great big ugly, smelly, blot on the landscape, our nation would finally get to see for itself what it has done to those most desperately in need of help.

That’s why it’s police policy to scatter homeless people far and wide. Unfortunately the problem is becoming too big now. There are too many of us. Even if you scatter us, we are popping up everywhere. What are they to do? Certainly, there are more and more of us dying – especially given the prevalence of Spice, smack and crack on the streets. That suits the authorities and the police certainly aren’t doing much to stop this trade, which is taking place right under their noses. As I’ve said before, it’s a kind of slow genocide. But it’s not happening fast enough.

The number of people becoming homeless is rapidly exceeding the number of people dying from the effects of homelessness. The authorities have got a real problem on their hands. We have a humanitarian crisis on our hands, and as much as we, as individuals can and should help out – it will take government action to really make a change. It seems fairly simple how to start to make things better.

* Build homes.

* End the vicious outdated vagrancy laws which make it a crime to ask for help.

* Make our green city spaces a place of refuge and safety for homeless people.

Marks and Spencer FINALLY got in touch with me today. Let’s give them a chance. Perhaps they can help us pressure Redbridge Council into giving up some public land for homeless people to sleep safely in, seeing as there are no beds in night shelters anymore.

It’s funny how homelessness affects your view on EVERYTHING. When you have been in that situation it will haunt you for the rest of your life.

I used to love the sound of rain when I was indoors and didn’t need to go out. Now, if I’m lucky enough to have a roof over my head at the time, I lie there listening to it, feeling sick with guilt about my friends who are still out there in it.

I used to LOVE London and my country. I genuinely NEVER believed I could possibly fall out of love with it. I loved it’s cultural diversity, the sense of adventure that comes from never really knowing what’s going to happen next, the feeling of boundless possibility.

But now all I see are the joins. I used to love the ungentrified parts, they felt ‘real’, raw, genuine. But on a trip around Newham last week, all I could see was the grinding poverty. Yes, it’s great, you can pick up a samosa for 50p. Those things used to excite me. I love a bargain after all. But what if you haven’t got 50p? Now all I see is a return to the days of Dickens and there is nothing worth romanticising about that. The posh bits, which are meant to impress us, are even more depressing because I know that wealth has been created mostly by property speculators not caring that their actions have left so many people to suffer. ‘I’m alright jack.’ It’s piss elegant, as they say up north.

For me, the party is over, and I pray for the day I get to leave this city and this country for somewhere civilised. I yearn for Greece or for Georgia in the Caucasus, where you are treated like a guest in someone’s home. Nobody has much in these ancient countries, but everybody shares.

And yeah, I wil always prefer a rough east end boozer to one that’s been dollied up and made presentable. To somewhere which stinks of money but has no class, somewhere which, as my granny would have observed correctly, is all fur coat and no knickers. Sums up London really. Now I know why they call them the ‘filthy rich’…

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