This is now my third blog posting in response to Southend Echo’s reporting to do with rough sleepers camping in the town’s sea front area, rightly highlighting an issue of grave concern to local residents (see here and here for my previous two postings), and one that incites a range of emotions from sympathy to antipathy. As I trawled through my Facebook posts early this morning, I was struck by one in response to today’s front page Echo headline: “MP: ‘Move Homeless From Our Beach’” followed by its report: “MP: Move on these homeless campers holidaying by sea“. My Facebook friend was not at all happy with our local MP, James Duddridge’s comments. I knew I had to hang fire in responding to the article until I had actually read it, rather hoping the comments were not as bad as my friend had intimated. Alas, they were worse!
I wondered whether to bite my tongue, bide my time and keep my powder dry, following my own advice – we must not be distracted from trying to win the end game, which as far as rough sleepers goes is bringing them to a better place. Not wanting to vilify our elected representative, and recognizing that newspapers tend to add their own spin, were additional factors, but even giving maximum benefit of the doubt I had to conclude Mr. Duddridge was not only wrong but dangerously so insofar that a gullible public might be taken in by the rhetoric of our local MP and this could have dire consequences for the very people I am committed to helping. So with due respect, a response is due and these are my thoughts …
I should precede any criticisms by acknowledging that having people camp out on our beaches is not a good thing. However, until someone can come up with better solutions I can only conclude it is perhaps the best of a number of far from ideal alternatives. I also concede that you only need one “bad un” to make things worse for everyone else. My first hand knowledge is that most of those who sleep in tents in the sea front area act responsibly, do not do so by choice (but better than shop doorways, covered car parks, etc., where they can be and are harassed). Some have been doing so for a long time (including during the winter months), and we only know about it now because of the power of investigative journalism.
Mr. Duddridge’s assertion these folk are holidaying by the sea is insulting and is perpetuating a lie. To call them vagrants (definition: a person without a settled home or regular work who wanders from place to place and lives by begging) is dehumanizing and is also being economic with the truth, and worse still plays into the hands of bigoted bullies that use such intemperate language to harass these folk. To state that homelessness is tackled well by organizations like HARP shows how out of touch he is, despite the excellent work HARP and its partners are doing. Anyone who regularly goes out to help the homeless can tell you that is not so.
As for Southend being a magnet for rough sleepers (something seaside towns share, especially in season, although to its credit Southend takes better care of the homeless than many), it is far from a holiday destination for such folk, whose focus is survival, something he would find out if he were to talk to these folk. I really would like Mr Duddridge to think before pontificating, and at the very least check out what I have said for himself. I would like to think he is a compassionate, well meaning human being, but his comments throw doubt, that or he is from a different planet to the rest of us. If I can make a suggestion – a retraction would be helpful. I (and others too) would be happy to show him what goes on and introduce him to my rough sleeper friends. We have offered.
There are other points the Echo have picked up, many of which have been taken up in my earlier blogs and if not I will come to them shortly. Meanwhile, I will put my “disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” pen down, cool down, get back to more routine undertakings and plot how best to help my homeless-on-sea friends.
Note: I am now given to understand that Mr. Duddridge did NOT use the word “vagrant” when he was interviewed and has been misreported. While other earlier criticisms still apply, this is not one of them. Also, I understand he has been unwell and I wish him a speedy recovery.