The subject matter is and always will remain challenging. Homelessness: The Reality on the Ground is the type of issue that can generate fear and ignorance in equal proportions. Those who may have believed they were at little risk of the housing crisis are increasingly being sucked into the vortex of a perfect storm. Inaccessible market values, extreme rent levels, a lack of supply, the return of poor landlords and the paralysed inability of government has placed the fundamental human need of shelter into the hands of the speculators and spivs. As we discovered during the panel presentations and discussion (Downs Festival 2017) homelessness once considered the blight of those on the fringes of our society is now showing its ugly face amongst paid workers, especially the working young. There is a broken promise in any social contract between individual and state when homelessness rears its ugly head. The crisis we now face sits at the feet of those who have governed for the past 40 years and willingly encouraged the breakdown of decency towards humanity. Homelessness on the scale we witness has not happened by accident. It is a deliberate policy designed and orchestrated by the government.
So what is to be done as we sit in self-imposed ignorant bliss, knowing the causes, but claiming to be ‘powerless’ to do anything? Being powerless can, of course, be a convenient excuse and one that in its worst condition seeks self-reflected pity on oneself. The cold reality is that some people vote to be powerless. The first step in demanding change is the realisation that you are not powerless and by actually doing something, no matter how little, you become a small, but integral part of a social movement and movements change things on a big scale. The words ‘political struggle’ in one of the wealthiest economies, had until recently, become an almost embarrassing term to use given the abundance of riches at our disposal. It is clearly back on the agenda for a younger generation who are quite rightly increasingly restless and angry at the inheritance being offered to them by a tired and self-imposed ‘powerless’ older generation. While government (nationally and locally) is blindfolded in a downward spiral of spin, apportion blaming and rebranding their diminishing resources as new. Informal networks of self-motivated people armed with nothing more than compassion and love are seeking solutions. On one hand, a growing number of people are not prepared to ‘walk on by’ and ignore the injustice staring them in the face and on the other hand young people are increasingly motivated to get involved in direct-action and structured politics. It’s too early to say if this is a fad and it may suffer the relentlessly grind wheels that have often warm many a good person down, but positive seeds have been sown.
It was an absolute honour to have co-hosted the panel on Homelessness at the Information Stage, Bristol Downs Festival with friend and film director Anthony Tombling. The panel brought together people and groups who did not fall for the self-indulgent notion of ‘powerlessness’ and did the right thing. They got engaged and became part of the solution rather than the problem. Ordinary people from a variety of backgrounds, faiths, genders and cultures. My deepest respect goes out to Bristol Reconnect, Brixton Soup Kitchen, Homeless Heroes (Birmingham) Feed the Homeless, St. Mungo’s, Help Bristol’s Homeless who are doing some amazing work often off the radar. If you would like to find out more about these groups and get engaged with what they are doing then just click here.
There will always be armchair cynics in life who can’t, don’t want to be won over, or are only comfortable with the status quo. My advice is equally simple. Following the words from one generation to another…. “come, councillors, MPs and Government please heed the call don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall……come mothers and fathers throughout the land and don’t criticise what you can’t understand your sons and your daughters are beyond your command. Your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand.”