I suppose of all the subjects touched on in my blogs, the one around rough sleeping has featured most. There are good reasons for this: the subject is complex and concerning, I find there is widespread ignorance and injustices, things are being done to meet the needs but more can and needs to be done, and it is one area in particular that has most featured more recently in my community activism.
Squatters have set up camp behind the derelict buildings
A number of posts have reflected on rough sleeping around the town centre, the moving on of rough sleepers e.g. those sleeping in tents, empty buildings, car parks etc., and the approach of agencies like the Council and the Police as well as the response of charities like HARP and the various soup kitchens. I have had to confess, I do not have easy solutions. While I try to work with all and sundry to come up with suitable responses, I don’t take sides, e.g. some statutory agencies that appear to come down too hard on rough sleepers or ignore their plight, some voluntary agencies that appear to be too soft or fail to go that extra mile and give the help needed, and the rough sleepers themselves, whose circumstances and how they come to terms with their situation vary considerably, and as often happens do not tell the whole truth when asked or act as one might hope.
I came across one item of local news reported today by the Southend Echo that had the title: “Night time ‘no-go areas being created by rough sleepers high on drink and drugs’ in Southend”. It begins: “NO-GO areas are being created by drug-addled rough sleepers who are creating “ghettos” where people are afraid to go to at night. Residents say Southend High Street has become too dangerous to venture into after dark as drunk and drugged rough sleepers congregate in shop doorways. Squatters have also set up camp in tents behind derelict buildings in Pleasant Road. One terrified mother said a man known to live there persuaded her 12-year-old son and a friend to go with him to a disused building in Stanley Road on Sunday …”.
Like much I read in the press on the subject of rough sleeping, I treat this with a degree of caution, given I don’t have all the details and, since the article has sown the seed of antagonism toward rough sleepers, I am keen to find out what the rough sleepers themselves have to say. Sadly, some do show anti-social tendencies and one result of their actions is that some residents at least feel intimidated, even though often this can be an over-reaction or prejudice toward rough sleepers. One reoccurring theme is that one anti-social or bogus rough sleeper can make it bad for many good ones who are simply intent on survival and not disturbing other people, and drink and drugs is a confounding issue. Yet many rough sleepers DO act responsibly and try NOT to upset the neighbours, but given that accommodation is not available and/or their needs are complex and are not being dealt with by a system that falls short, while still they have to find somewhere to stay, with camping being one option.
No go areas in a town like Southend are unacceptable and so is people feeling unsafe to walk the streets. It is equally unacceptable that 50 to 100 people sleep rough TONIGHT in Southend and many of the important individual needs e.g. suitable accommodation and support, where there are mental health and addiction related issues, are not being met. Tomorrow night, I will be meeting with other volunteers helping at the Soup Kitchen (Street Spirit) we run in the centre of town. We may well meet some of those rough sleepers referred to in the Echo article. We do not commend or condemn; we do not pretend to make much more than a dent in what truly needs doing, and we do not always distinguish as we might between the needy and the bogus, but we try to show compassion, give food and practical material help and be good listeners, doing what we can, realizing the situation is more complex than the article suggests.