Other Writing

SOLIDARITY NOT CHARITY: Let’s Get Real About Homelessness.

Yet another young homeless bloke has died on the streets of Brighton.

Casey was a colourful character. I got to know him while volunteering at the Love Activist street kitchen and at the homeless unity camp. Often wearing a onesie, often off his head on various substances, affable, lively, full of fun and life. Casey was also an absolute fucking nightmare sometimes, his proclivity to indulge himself in substances did frequently make him a liability to himself and others – but he was almost always funny as fuck with it.


Casey needed the sort of complex, specialist care that one of the richest countries in the world should be able to provide. According to Brighton Housing Trust, we used to offer incredible care in Brighton, before the economic crash of 2008…(or before the Tories, whichever way you look at it)…

Casey’s death is a symptom of a growing problem which we have all been blinkered away from for far too long now.

He’s not a front page spread, he’s a number. A deafeningly silent statistic, beyond the purview of UK Gov Plc or the country’s leading national charities (despite record breaking six-figure salaries for their top CEOs).

Casey joins a long list of human beings who have perished on our streets recently, surrounded by mostly warm hearts with the very best of intentions and a few cruel bastards out for themselves.

I’ll be honest about it – I found it quite hard to like Casey, but I offered him unconditional love, respect and forgiveness. I don’t think he liked me very much either but he respected me back.

I liked Bill a lot. Bill was a legend – sober as a judge, compassionate and highly intelligent with a great sense of humour. He had gotten used to street life and spent his time looking out for people. His nickname was ‘Grandad’. Everybody loved him. He was one of the most inspiring and proactive members of the street community in Brighton.

Bill died last year. Walked into the sea apparently.

I miss Bill a lot.


As I’m writing this, I have just discovered that Gareth, the Big Issue seller whose pitch was outside Waitrose also passed on New Year’s day.

How did it come to this?

People in this city and around this country really care about homelessness. We care about homeless people. We give, we volunteer, we donate, yet we seem to have more people working and volunteering in ‘the homeless sector’ than we have rough sleepers. How did it get so mixed up? How have we managed to get it so wrong?

One brave doctor at the city council’s recent homeless summit explained how he had personally treated at least 50 rough sleepers who have died here in the last three years. How many more people will die on these streets for our collective inability to innovate effective solutions to the systemic root problem?

Chomsky said the easiest way to control a debate is by defining the parameters of it – or words to that effect. The parameters of the debate around homelessness cast the homeless person as the problem. Without a hint of irony, the view that ‘homelessness is a lifestyle choice’ has become popular among certain ‘experts’ and ‘specialists’.

Nobody chooses to sleep rough and die on the streets. Nobody would choose to live off-grid, if the grid was built for everybody. But it’s not and the grid is shrinking. Rapidly.

To expand the parameters of the debate, awareness of the actual facts is paramount.

Here are some numbers:

112,330 households applied to their local authority for homelessness assistance in 2014/15. Rough sleeping in England has doubled under the Tories.

Soaring social rents, welfare cuts and stagnant wages have lead to the highest level of evictions ever recorded. 37,739 private and public sector tenants had their homes repossessed by court bailiffs in 2013 and the trend is towards more, not less evictions. 11,000 families were evicted in just the first three months of 2015. I’ll update the total for the year when I find it.

There are no numbers for the UK’s ‘hidden homeless’ – sofasurfing, squatting, living in vehicles and so on – though this trend must also be on the rise, given the increasing scale of evictions. Once people become embedded in street life, they frequently vanish from Big Brother’s grid – some by deliberate choice, more simply by being absorbed into the UK’s burgeoning underclass, surviving day to day, hand to mouth. Many go off grid involuntarily through digital apartheid: lack of access to digital banking and thereby other digital life tools and of course, many vanish by virtue of UK Gov plc and it’s subsidiaries vested interest in massaging, or not publishing unflattering data. ( for instance, local, or national homeless mortality statistics – which are extremely hard to find, anywhere…).

Over 100,000 children are currently homeless in the UK.

I do not believe the homeless person is the problem. The broader socio-economic trend is the problem. It is the same problem that means you are either slaving in a bullshit job you hate, or struggling to survive on what’s left of state benefits. Unless we start to get real about this, we are all going to end up living in slums and tent cities, or cannon fodder for an unholy apocalyptic war.

If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people, to quote Tony Benn.

However, despite record breaking six-figure salaries for the CEOs of the UK’s leading charities and the incredible generosity and compassion of the British people, the problem of homelessness isn’t going away. In fact, none of the single issue campaigns are going to succeed without acknowledging the interrelated root causal problem. If we don’t change the way we are thinking and acting about this problem, it is only going to get much, much worse.

The 1%’s propaganda would have you believe that homelessness is an unavoidable problem and/or a ‘lifestyle choice’.

Try to imagine that you are living on the streets and being treated like you chose to be there, or that your homelessness is ‘unavoidable’ because the competitive ‘free market must prosper’. Imagine trying to access services which seemingly don’t exist, beyond their advertising campaigns and lucrative fundraising operation.

Einstein said you can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created the problem. Homelessness is a symptom of the problem, not the cause. The greed of free-market, neo-liberal capitalism got us into this mess and we’re going to have to start thinking outside of the box to solve it.

If all you can do is donate money, exercise some discernment. Research the organisation you’re supporting. How effective are they? What do they actually do with your donation? What difference does your donation actually make? How much of it goes towards actually housing, or helping people? How much goes on glossy media, call centres, chuggers and fundraising campaigns?

Don’t give to the 1%’s charities. Give direct to homeless people, help directly. Stop giving the 1% money to gamble on the stock market which caused this crisis, while they build an employment sector which turns profit by treating another symptom, rather than the root cause.

If you have a problem with the idea that rough sleepers might spend your donation on crack and cider to get them through the night, give them food, time and love.

Support your local Anonymous #OpSafe, Love Activists, Occupy, and any other services or (genuine) charities who are actually helping the situation. If you’re not into joining groups, take direct action yourself, however you see fit. Lobby your MP, if you’re into that sort of thing…

Solidarity Not Charity. Resist evictions. Homes Not Bombs. Occupy The Lot.

R.I.P. Casey, Bill, Gareth and all the other victims we don’t know about because UK Gov Plc gave not a fuck about them.



By Ann Narkeh

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