I wrote this letter to my MP and Birmingham City Council. The situation for homelessness people in our towns and cities is desperate, and it is rapidly spiralling out of control:
Dear Sir or Madam – I’m genuinely furious. This concerns Birmingham City Council’s policy towards homeless people and rough sleepers. They are often one and the same, though housing professionals are careful to discuss them separately.
I know a rough sleeper. She’s called O*, and I see her sitting outside the ‘Briar Rose’ Wetherspoons pub on Bennetts Hill, just off New Street in the city centre. I walk past her, and she nods. Sometimes she reads a book, and occasionally she will say, ‘Hello’ and give me a thin little smile. She looks like she needs a year or three of square meals, a lot of hugs – and somewhere stable and loving to live. I’ll tell you what she gets instead of human kindnesses.
Yesterday evening at about 18:20 I walked by O* and saw a ‘Community Support Officer’ trying to move her along. She says this happens to her a lot. He was basically bullying her, but she has NO-WHERE TO GO. She does not have a regular postcode or address, or a bank account, so affording the £18 a night she needs to stay in a hostel is, to put it far too mildly, ‘difficult’.
Not long ago she had marks on her face and revealed that some thug decided to beat her up as she slept out on the street. I’m 53, she’s in her 20s, and I mention this because she is is young enough to be the daughter I never had. Forgive me, but this both moves me very deeply, and enrages me. No-one should face a similar situation in 21st Century Britain. I thought those days were dead and gone, but apparently not.
She is far too thin, is in no way aggressive, and it is crystal clear to me that the City Council is throwing every subsection of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 that it can at O*, and the growing army of similar people who freight the doorways, side streets and hidden corners of our city. This article is very instructive.
I want to see actions, not words. I want bullies with hi-vis vests and a remit from the City Council to cease and desist immediately. I do NOT want to read about O* in my local paper and understand that the worst possible thing has happened to her. And it will, if people simply walk away and do nothing. Or if someone hands her a leaflet in the guise of providing ‘Helpful community support’ just to tick a box on some bureaucrat’s spreadsheet. It’s not good enough, and it offends every sensibility I have. Birmingham can and must do better.