- By girly-d
- On 19/03/2018
- 0 comments
My feet are freezing.
They literally feel like two blocks of ice.
I have my heater on, I'm fully clothed. I'm huddled under two double duvets in my bed. I still can't get warm. Because my caravan it appears, isn't built to withstand winter.
Neither unfortunately are homeless people.....
Because while I try (and fail) to keep warm in my bedroom, there are people sleeping outside in this. People sleeping in tents and on cardboard. In bus shelters and shop doorways.
People who don't have what I have.
People with literally fuck-all.
So I'm a lucky girl. I have somewhere safe to sleep tonight. I have my bed, hot food and drinks, warm clothes.....a bathroom with a shower. In the big scheme of things I have nothing to complain about. I'm pretty blessed.
I spend a lot of my time in Cornwall. Second only to London when it comes to our homeless population. It's a huge issue here and one that we take pretty seriously.....so when someone dies here out on our streets, it hits us all hard....not just the professionals.
Because people assume it's idyllic living here. Don't get me wrong, it can be....If you can afford it. It's a beautiful place to live. It's also incredibly expensive yet the wages that most of us earn here aren't in line with the high rents and general cost of living. So it's a struggle to get by if you are working - It's nigh on impossible for those who aren't. So it's easy to lose what little you have if something unexpected goes wrong.
Because I've been there.
Up until July last year I was living in a homeless hostel in Cornwall, run by St Petrocs. Before that I was in a rehab unit and before that I was on a sofa somewhere.... So I kind of know what I'm talking about here.
It's hard to give an accurate number of rough sleepers here as with any town or city. Circumstances change. People come and go. Plus homeless people are transient. They tend to move around a lot. But on any given night across the Uk, the numbers run into thousands. Tonight across Cornwall there could be any number on our streets. And while the majority are well known to homeless services and outreach workers, some of these people are off-grid and have therefore never come into contact with or accessed outreach or homeless support.....Plus many struggle with poor mental health, which can be disorientating, and cause distrust and suspicion. So many prefer to go it alone. Out of sight. Which means that on freezing nights like this, if they can't be seen, they don't exist...so our headcounts are really rough estimates.
Cold weather provisions don't even scratch the surface. Demand for these services constantly outweighs supply. Homeless shelters and hostels with ever-increasing waiting lists run by over-worked and over-stretched staff are turning people away in droves....while empty houses, shops and buildings lie dormant and people die on the streets.
It breaks my heart.
And so people try to help. Ordinary people like you and me who can't just sit back and watch or do nothing.
They offer their time and their skills and come up with a plan to keep people fed and warm and safe......and if they don't have the resources, they improvise. Because surely doing something has to be better than people just covering eyes and ears and hoping that it will all just suddenly go away.
And then they get into trouble for it.
Sofias solidarity Centre, a huge, temporary 'pop-up' nightshelter has this week been ordered to close it's doors by the courts.....because the volunteers running it and the organisation behind it are effectively squatting in an otherwise empty building and the property developers involved aren't happy and want it back.
The shelter, backed by a huge wave of public support, has been providing food, warmth, company and shelter to between 100 and 160 people a night since they took over occupancy earlier this month.
Those in need of urgent medical assistance have been seen by GP's and emergency services and have therefore been able to access treatment that they may not have been able to access alone.
There is little doubt that lives have been saved in the process.
Which is pretty heroic.
Unfortunately, if anyone in the building refuses to leave the property now that notice has been given, this then means that they will be classed as squatting illegally. In the eyes of the law this then becomes a crime, potentially making them criminals not heros.
They could be prosecuted.
And when these doors close (which is looking highly likely sooner rather than later), then the majority of those people are back out on the streets. Fending for themselves. Back to square one. Out in this.
And people will say that it's wrong and it's terrible and that it shouldn't be allowed.....but without being able to offer some kind of solution to prevent this from happening, then unfortunately soon this will become a reality.
And then people will die.
Tonight. Tomorrow. The next day.
Because this weather is relentless and it's taking a head-count.
On snowy days like today my social media feed is full of people laughing and joking, playing in the snow. People going sledging, making 'Snow Angels'.....it's all a bit of fun.
For a homeless person out in this weather it could be life or death.
Because the tragedy behind this is that Snow Angels are real. They are the people out there in this, who lie down in the snow, go to sleep......and never wake up.
****As this article was about to be published, Sofias Solidarity Centre has announced that they are having to leave the property. Over one hundred people will now be homeless again as of today*****
So if you are reading this and are wondering what you can do to help here are some ideas.
Contact @streetskitchen London to offer support, whether this is financial, practical or both and take to twitter and facebook to share this news and show your support.
In Cornwall you could contact @stpetrocs and again offer the above
Write to your local MP asking how they are tackling this issue and what more could be done to help those affected or who may be at risk.
Donate tinned or packet food to your local foodbank.
Ditto Warm, thick, waterproof clothing to your local homeless shelters or soup kitchens.
Become a Volunteer.
Sponsor a room at Centrepoint.
Buy the Big Issue / a coffee/ a sandwich
Anything at all.....just please, don't do nothing.