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Raise the Roof - Homelessness in Nottingham

11 October 11 words: Penny Reeve
It’s the bigger picture that holds resonance; the cuts don’t just affect homeless people, there is a link between homelessness and crime
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Photo: Charlotte Hueso

Ever kicked a homeless person in the face? No? Well look closely at Nottingham Council, held up by David Cameron, and you’ll notice that it’s got its steel toe capped boots on, its leg back and is about to take a huge ruddy run up. So how are they sticking the boot in exactly? Well, budget cuts - 45% budget cuts to be precise - to homeless and vulnerable peoples’ services in our fair city, giving us the accolade of being in the top five cities in the country with the biggest cuts.

Let’s just think about that for a second. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that that’s a shedload of cash, just under half of what they get now. This money has been previously put to great use with an excellent support network for homeless and vulnerable people. I spoke to Mark, a lovely man that for a time, due to relationship and gambling problems, was homeless: “I was living off the street, eating out of bins, eating other people’s discarded food, and was not in a happy place. I was quite depressed at the time and didn’t really know what to do. I was so frightened of my own shadow that I couldn’t bring myself to ask anyone for anything and then someone came up to me. She mentioned Emmanuel House and told me that at least if I went there I’d be able to get a wash and stuff. So off I trundled and the staff there were amazing, unbelievable. I just loved the place. It became almost like my home.” Mark was so impressed with the help that he got that now he has gotten back on his feet, he regularly goes back to help out at Emmanuel House. However, now, like a lot of other places in the city, Emmanuel House faces closure. Framework’s Handel Street centre, a wet centre where people with alcohol problems could drink in a safe, controlled environment, was closed in March this year and there are more places under threat.
 

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Photo: Charlotte Hueso

It’s easy to turn a blind eye and blame the homeless people for the predicament they’re in, but not only is it bloody cold, horrible and damp living out on the streets, it can be frightening too. “I was sleeping rough by a derelict shop beneath some students accommodation. One night, they saw me effectively going to bed and they threw bottles of piss at me”. Mark says it’s not just students that are the problem, “It can be worse, rough sleepers get beaten up while they’re sleeping. People leave the pub on a Saturday night, wanting a fight and a homeless person is there.” Some of these people are ill already and a lot more are getting on a bit. You wouldn’t fight your grandma if she was sick would you? So why a homeless person?  It’s essential for people to understand how terrible these budget cuts are, and what they’ll mean to vulnerable people across the city. Charlotte Hueso has been documenting homelessness in the city, entitled Photovoices, to highlight the voices of the under-represented.  She’ll also be extending this project with a film, which will be shot along with Ian Nesbitt ‘Not Just Pounds and Pence!’ to document the lives of six vulnerable people over the next twelve months.

It’s the bigger picture that holds resonance though as the cuts don’t just affect homeless people; unfortunately there is a link between homelessness and crime. If you were on the street and starving, I’m pretty sure that you’d nick a pastie from Greggs wouldn’t you? Peter Radge, Senior Director for Homelessness and Housing at Framework, knows only too well the further reaching effects of homelessness. “There is a relationship between homelessness and crime.  Many rough sleepers, for example, have histories of substance misuse and related acquisitive crime such as shoplifting and theft from cars.  Others will have convictions for nuisance crime such as begging and anti-social behaviour. I think that most people coming into Nottingham would acknowledge a significant improvement in the environment and their experience of the city when it comes to things like begging, the fear is that a reduction in services will undo all of that good work.” Not only that, but this autumn specialist services for offenders will be cut, which basically means that people that committed crimes are going to be thrown back out on the street again, with no support and nowhere to go. Which, no matter how you cook it, it doesn’t bode well.

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Photo: Charlotte Hueso

So, with danger on the streets and the removal of funding, what is the overall view towards all of this? According to Mark, “It kind of feels like a culling”, something which Peter agrees with, “When I look at the achievements that organisations like ours have made and the numbers of people who have benefited from our intervention, it makes me both sad and angry that we are now in this situation.  The present government talks of creating a Big Society, when we would argue that we have been operating one for a number of years.  Framework is not just comprised of paid employees.  It enjoys significant support in the communities in which it works and is able to mobilise and support large numbers of volunteers from those who actually help out in services to those addressing envelopes or assisting in our fundraising efforts.  I would argue that in some ways by decommissioning the services which target the most vulnerable government is sticking two fingers up to those people who give up their time by investing in their communities.” Never a truer word has been spoken. You only have to visit Rally, a soup kitchen that runs at the centre across from St. Peters Church, Hartley Street, on a Tuesday and Wednesday, to see the amount of dedicated volunteers that turn up to try and make a difference. There is a team of ‘chefs’ each week and then one of mentors, from the local Christian charity, Aspire, who help to signpost and support drug abusers, no matter their religion. You can’t get much more big society than that, but seeing as budgets are tight already, how are they supposed to help the influx of people needing to use the services of the kitchen? These people may be religious, but they can’t magic fish and loaves of bread out of thin air and good will.

What also seems apparent is that it doesn’t even seem like the budget cuts will really do much, in the long term, either. “There is overwhelming evidence that cutting these services so severely is a false economy.” Says Charlotte, “for every pound spent on supporting people services, two pound is saved from the public purse. Meaning that if vulnerable people are kept safe and well they don't need to access drug and alcohol or mental health services. They are less likely to offend or have hospital admissions that are all paid for with public money. These services are a necessary provision. These short term savings will have a long term cost as once the services are gone the cost of recreating them will be huge. Eventually they will have to recreate the services because the people that need them won't disappear, and in fact will be more visible.” So why are we doing it?
 

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There are lots of options to help out though, fear not. Donating your old clothes, summer and winter styles, to your local shelter, dishing up some sarnies at the local soup kitchen - it ain’t just soup you know - shaking buckets (well, holding, shaking isn’t allowed anymore…), getting sponsored for doing something, or what about heading one of the many Framework’s Raise the Roof events that are taking place across the city in October? Framework are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year so have a plethora of fun and joy for us to enjoy, whilst doing something great for those not so fortunate. Raise the Roof is an arts, music and culture festival that aims to raise money for Framework and amongst the many venues taking part are Broadway, Nottingham Contemporary and Lakeside.

Our city, and its residents – those with and without permanent accommodation – now rely heavily on you sitting up, taking notice and helping out in a big or a small way.  It’s vital for us to realise that homelessness isn’t a choice and that mental health issues compound the problems in a lot of these people’s lives.  It won’t just go away because we refuse to look: so get involved, get down to a Raise the Roof event or, if you have the time, donate a bit of your time to one of the many great organisations in and around the city. 

Raise the Roof Festival website

Emmanuel House Just Giving page

Emmanuel House website

Aspire website

 

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