According to the Southend Echo (30/12): “BAILIFFS have evicted homeless people camped illegally on Southend seafront this morning. The town’s county court granted the council a possession order and injunction at the end of November, enabling the four campers left at Clifftop Gardens to be removed. And the bailiffs visited the site shortly after 11am after the council had helped 23 homeless people to move on from various seafront locations during the summer. The remaining campers had declined offers of help. Council leader Ron Woodley said it had been “extremely difficult” to decide on the appropriate course of action. He added: “This course of action brings me absolutely no pleasure but I feel we have explored and exhausted every avenue available to us over the past few months to help these people. “Our borough has some of the best services for homeless people in the region and currently has a winter night shelter scheme operating until March. “We have a fantastic group of volunteers in the town who freely give up their time and resources to provide food and shelter for those in need, and I thank them for all they do. “For their own welfare, these final few people must move on. It is getting colder and wetter weather is forecast. This is an unsafe area that has experienced cliff slippage and is still subject to land movement, so there is a real risk that they could be seriously injured if they stay. Compounding that risk, their living conditions are becoming increasingly unsanitary, which not only endangers their own health but also carries a wider public health risk.“”
For those who read my blogs regularly will know I have been following developments with interest, for the prospect of eviction has been looming for some time. Looking at my “Evicting homeless campers from Southend seafront” blog in November, my thoughts then still remain relevant. As for adverse reactions, the following posted by one Facebook friend epitomizes some of the anger that is felt and has been expressed: “The people of Southend voted in a council which has yet again disregarded the fact that moving the homeless from pillar to post is not helping. Heavy handed use of bailiffs to eject people from tents due to the rules and regulations making it impossible for agencies to help certain rough sleepers and a total lack of appropriate dual diagnosis services to aid those who do not fit criteria which would make them ‘suitable’ for help is another prime example of the total lack of any understanding of this issue by Ron Woodley and his merrie men. I would ask the people of Southend to think long and hard, in light of the sheer number of people willing to help rough sleepers, to think very carefully about who they vote for in subsequent May elections!”
My feelings are mixed but are worth articulating, for without being presumptuous or arrogant I believe my views do carry some weight. While I see little point in siding with either the Establishment or anti-establishment, especially if not cognizant with all the facts, being a concerned party who tries to engage with both the Council and the folk that are being evicted and their allies, I cannot sit on the fence either. I let others pass judgment on Ron Woodley’s comments and to give Ron his due the Council he leads has been placed in a difficult position, they have sought to engage with those affected by the eviction (how well is again for others to judge), a minority of rough sleepers do engage in anti-social behaviour, and the Council have spoken to those with an interest in what happens. There is the matter of rough sleepers from out of town, those with no recourse to public funds or can claim benefits, thus restricting the options on offer. I should be said that compared with some parts of the country Southend treats rough sleepers better; this part due to the Council.
However … I am not satisfied! According to my sources, some of those being evicted have not been offered something suitable (some haven’t even been spoken to); there is no evidence of a list of those being evicted against which is what has been offered and what their response is (needed to verify the Councils story); there is a good deal of mistrust on the part of those being evicted toward authority figures, as well as a lack of suitable services, especially in the area of mental health and dual diagnosis; the fundamental questions of why people become homeless in the first place, why they do not engage with the services that are on offer, where are the gaps; and the idea of there being a health and safety issue, whilst true, doesn’t compare with how bad it is where these folk may otherwise end up.
While not claiming to have the perfect solution (my work with the homeless so far has convinced me these do not exist), other than the obvious one – if not the Cliffs area, there still needs to be somewhere relatively safe and secure where these folk can go, so where? In theory there is: I manage one of the Church Winter Night Shelters (CWNS) and we are not operating at full capacity, so why not there? Because of the nature of the operation, we only deal with more straight forward “cases”. Sadly, I had to evict one guest on Christmas day for inappropriate behavior and another guest could not stay overnight because we could not accommodate him and his dog. Some do not engage with the night shelter program for what are in their opinions perfectly legitimate reasons.
I don’t write purporting to have all the answers (yet do want to help). In fact no-one I know of does. But as I said before, I do not believe the Council when they claim they are doing all the can.