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Given the landscape of recent politics, you’d be forgiven for getting buried underneath a mountain of continually evolving rhetoric surrounding the ‘Brexit’ process. Like hawks, representatives of the media have been continually updating the world on the many myriad spectrums of the frankly messy process, at the expense of much other news.
This article is not about ‘Brexit’. Nor is the aim to belittle the good work of journalists keeping everyone up to date on a process that is far-reaching and has many implications for all aspects of life in the UK. However, far too many articles of those exist already, many of a higher calibre than this writer could conjure. What this article is concerned with, is highlighting yet another of our many social issues that ‘big politics’ seems to very conveniently cover up.
Homelessness has, by a certain section of mainstream media, been portrayed in a repeatedly unsympathetic light. Alongside the image of ‘benefits scroungers’ and the rhetoric such as Theresa May’s ‘we should all live within our means’, homelessness has been lumped as the ‘other’ in media, something to ignore unless you’re watching police officers pick up the ‘fakers’ on the street. Never are we invited to see the world from the perspective of the street, unless it is glamourized, and cleansed of any form of reality. Of course, when ‘reality’ is put into question, we end up seeing homelessness from the perspective of the elite; we’re encouraged to consider the prospect of ‘street spikes’, such as those placed in Manchester, to deter people from sleeping on the streets, as if it were a willing choice. We’re encouraged to consider homeless people as ‘nuisances’. “There’s two flips to every coin”, I was told by a homeless individual. Sometimes, choice is taken out of our hands by unforeseen circumstance, circumstances becoming increasingly dire as each passing day under our current regime stands.
In the past few months, I have spoken to and seen many people on the streets. A public meeting set up by the Business Improvement District, according to the Lancaster Guardian, highlighted concerns about the seeming rise in the number of homeless individuals in town. From experience of speaking to individuals and to volunteers and staff at the LDHAS (a local day shelter offering help to people left in the streets), a few common traits appear. A lack of solid mental health care provision by central government leaves people unable to properly take care of themselves, monopolised housing markets allow landlords to raise prices beyond the reach of people, and a distinct lack of direct support for people on the streets means people cannot get help unless they fulfil a rigorous set of bureaucratic criteria, often too excluding to be relevant. Another individual told me that when he approached the local council about help, because he was a victim of an attack, among other responses, he was told to ‘sit under a camera’.
When faced with the reality, people become uncomfortable, because underneath a government that is striving to cut all forms of social welfare, we all realise that we’re only a few pay checks away from becoming destitute. That’s why we ignore people on the streets. That’s why we find it uncomfortable to discuss such issues. The last thing we need in a time where politicians and media increasingly divide people, is yet more division on a local scale. We are already at the point where people walk past, ignoring homeless people. The last thing we need is an attitude that dehumanises other people.
Despite the pioneering work of the LDHAS and the Christ Church night shelter, people are still suffering. In-between reporting Trump and Brexit when needed, some journalists ostracise the poor, crafting narratives of ‘scrounging’ and fraud to legitimise their suffering, and our government’s activities. I would like to propose an alternative. Give these people cameras. Let them show the mould growing in the one-up, one-down flats, the spiralling bills, the lack of food. Let them show the homelessness, the lack of food variety, the trouble in keeping their children healthy. Let them show the injustice, lest we forget it exists.