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Belfast - On the Streets

category antrim | rights, freedoms and repression | opinion/analysis author Wednesday December 05, 2007 14:38author by Davy Carlin Report this post to the editors

Belfast - On the streets

It was but a ‘gut re-action that I had decided to take an early lunch today from work, and also to leave by a differing route. And as I did I had seen a fella getting up from the ground with a cup in hand that he was begging with. I then looked at his face and it was an old school friend and some one I had recently worked with, but now with his face weathered and beaten.

He was coughing extensively and was feverish.

On speaking to him I found out that he had lost his job due to ‘down sizing, and with that, his private landlord had booted him out of his home of four years. He had battled against a slight mental disability all his life and despite that had held down a job stacking shelves which paid for a roof over his head.

He has no friends and little family.

He told me he was ‘living in a derelict building with a girl in her twenties and another young man who are also homeless, both of which have seen hard lives. He told me of the many faces which are getting more numerous and younger, who are eeking out an existence on our streets, many of which we don’t see, as they are ‘moved on into such squalor.

He has been on the streets for two weeks, and he says that the police have searched and hassled him on numerous occasions and threatened to charge him for begging. He does not drink and he begs for food and for the £1 to get into a hostel for the night from 8pm until 8am, then he is back out onto the streets.

He had gone to the Benefit agency but was told no fixed abode, then no money. So he literally begs for survival. He then said he had gone to the Housing Executive, but was told he could not be placed for four to six weeks.

I told him to come with me to housing advice to see what we could do. Then his words nearly broke my heart, ‘Davy I don’t want you to get in trouble with your work and stuff, I will survive’

So despite his condition and circumstances he worried about me, yes, my heart nearly broke.

We went to housing advice, and this time something was sorted.

Indeed it is so easy to end up on the streets, broken homes, broken relationships, loss of job, unscrupulous landlordism etc. Yet as this society moves on and many benefit from ‘peace and seeing many with their second homes, holiday homes etc, there are those who have no home.

This guy was let down by the system that professes to protect such persons. Had I not had that ‘gut reaction and a ‘feeling to go that route at that time, he could have been but another statistic, of death on our streets.

Those who sit on the hill and who are where they had wanted to be, let them not forget such persons.

They are our citizens, they are the friends the neighbours the brothers and sisters who have fallen on hard times, and in such times of need we need to do all we can to help them.

Indeed they are our fellow human beings.

author by Davy Carlinpublication date Wed Dec 05, 2007 14:46author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I know I was not going to write more exstensive pieces for while, but this situation moved me to write.

Here is an article I had written a few years back - How times change - or not, for some?

Peace at Whose Cost?

My partner and I recently travelled to the Odyssey Centre in Belfast to watch a newly released film. It was our first time travelling across to the venue, getting a 'black hack' down the Falls Road and a private taxi across to its doors. This recent venue holds Warner Village amongst other entertainments while others are still in the process of development. It also hosts a variety of restaurants, not your usual sit in cafe as in the Kennedy Centre picture house in Andersonstown but Spanish, Italian, Chinese cuisine and American diners amongst others to tempt your taste buds. Although only about 5pm, many of these restaurants were quite full with families and groups of school friends, and with meals around a tenner a touch there was still a steady flow of punters.

The centre itself was well furnished with the latest technology and designs all geared towards family entertainment, a testament one may say of the peace process. After the film myself and my partner went outside for a walk along the waterfront where we noticed immediately the cleanness and lack of graffiti as council workers busied themselves picking up the smallest of litter. As we walked past the mounted water sprinklers and watched the dazzling of lights reflect off the water along the water front, we looked also at the lines of luxurious apartments and offices that graced it with many others in construction. It was a far cry from even ten years ago and although not many persons from working class estates could afford such apartments or offices at least their kids can find the benefit of such recent venues as the Odyssey - or can they?

As we took a taxi across to a friend's house in South Belfast I started to wonder as to how many families from local working class areas could attend such a venue with regularity. For two adults and two children to watch a film, grab a hotdog, a drink and maybe some popcorn it would cost, in the Odyssey, around fifty pounds, almost a weeks shopping budget in some homes - this not including transport or sitting in for a meal. Such venues of entertainment were once out of reach to many working class children, in part for political reasons. Now ironically with the peace process such venues are still out of reach to many working class children for now increasingly economic reasons as we see still the poverty gap ever widening. Although such venues are welcomed we will still see mainly those families and communities that bore the brunt of the troubles finding it increasingly difficult to appreciate such alternative family entertainments as such are becoming already increasingly financially out of reach for many.

After a quick visit to our friend’s house we decided to dander through our city that recently did not make the 'A' list for the potential of being the City of Culture. Coming down past the infamous Ulster Hall we saw two young men wrapped in a sleeping blanket with a similar situation across the road. We stopped to briefly chat to them and to find out if they had found hostel shelter to stay in for the night. I found from the brief discussion a story of broken homes and abuse while others had more overt psychological problems. These young men in their early twenties knew neither peace or found a process that gave even a glimmer of hope.

As we then cut down by Brunswick street several other persons were lying outside the Holiday Inn again wrapped in blankets with a bowl and a sign of 'homeless please help' - a woman lay on the ground with her arms embraced in sleep to a partner. Coming then into Castle Street we looked up at our right and another young man was begging outside Primark and as we got into our taxi two men lay asleep urine soaked on a cardboard box while a woman drank from a cider bottle.

As I watched and read the fanfare of the possibility of becoming the City of Culture from nationalist politicians and press, from unionist politicians and press I believe such calls to be but a matter of hope rather than realism. As we then travelled up the Falls I saw some aspects of material change in the community in which I was raised. Where once stood the St Augustine's Youth Club were I went as a child now stood an unemployment centre. Just past that my old primary school St Finians where I attended until the early eighties stands now an education centre, and such material change was reflected in small ways all the way up the road. Yet to me it seems many important issues are given but a gloss where priorities are not based on need but directed towards ever increasingly cross party economic consensus which can cope with political differences as opposed to the once mainly political and economic discrimination with virtually no consensus - isn't it interesting though that the aspects of consensus now found is still leaving many of the same peoples behind?

To those who may be surprised that Belfast did not go forward for the City of Culture, walk through our city - see the ever increasing numbers of homeless laying on our streets with their faces getting younger and their numbers more numerous. Go through our working class estates and on 'both sides' you will find in many cases unity in poverty and social deprivation. Check out the statistics for the growing number of our youth taking their lives. The tourist guides of our city may show our new wonderful sites but I believe we have more important sights that need to be urgently addressed - that of those who eke out an existence on our city streets or those increasing numbers of children and families that live in poverty. A new tourist venue or new exhibition would mean little to them but the mindset of our process I increasingly find as one that seeks prosperity and provides development for sections and areas of our society while crumbs are waved to deprived communities and the vulnerable to be fought over - only the most in need or desperate need apply for their share.

As we got out of our taxi and entered our estate we walked down the alley, in which essential street lights remain still broken, and squeezed past the burnt out car that has lain their for several days. Again I wondered how long it would take 'a call out' if one of those dazzling lights along the water front was broken (so spoiling appearance) or indeed could we see a burnt out car lying for several days outside such apartments? I think not. And despite community activists in working class estates working tirelessly for the communities, many persons in such estates are part of the 'other two sides' within this process. That is - the lifestyles of social and economic inclusion as opposed to the life of persons, families and communities and their continual exclusion.

Whether one argues that this is not deliberate or that the peace process is not perfect it has to be said that there is a mindset amongst many within this process that such issues are of rhetorical priority only. Are those increasing numbers of youth that lie on our streets worth less that bailing out a private company? Are those increasing numbers of children and families falling into poverty worth less than looking for tax breaks for the rich? Is is right that on the one hand to continually finance venues to service those who can afford them while on the other hand continually closing local community, youth and educational centres in the most deprived areas for those that need them?

Our politicians spend much time and finance travelling and looking continually for inward investment - they seek also new and prosperous developments as is witnessed along the water front. All this may be welcomed but I wonder if maybe they could also spend more time and finance on our citizens who have benefited not from this process - could they seek new and affordable developments in areas of need, could they provide more affordable housing and facilities instead of closing down centres and cutting funding? While they marvel and speak out at the new skylight buildings that are springing up in sections of our society let them speak out and address the continual closing of vital services in working class areas.

The process as many have stated is not perfect. The political mindset of the governance of our society was for a long time dictated through a political and religious basis of bias with economic and social repercussions. Despite the political change the continued economic status quo has meant little change for many of the most vulnerable. The divide between Catholic and Protestant is often referred to as the 'two sides' yet this process has increasingly highlighted 'the other two sides' that of the 'haves' and 'have nots'. Is it not time that real and important issues that affect many of our society's somewhat 'forgotten' and vulnerable peoples are given the same attention as that of others?

Davy Carlin

author by Gilbert Jeannonpublication date Thu Dec 06, 2007 17:05author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It is a disgrace Davy that there should be a homeless situation in Belfast. The Benefit Agencies seems to put the homeless in a no win situation which is in my opinion disgraceful. Quick to put public money into the pockets of private landlords the Housing Executive should be doing its job and providing sheltered housing for all those who need it.

With house prices rising, it is getting harder to get housing, it should be a priority for all parties in this assembly to gather up the funds to build social housing as a necessity.

We have too many bourgeoise speculators building housing for the market not for the people. Private housing should stop being built and affordable property built for the use of all those who need it.

We can only judge a society by how it treats its wounded. Homelessness should of been erdaicated early last century..lets make homelessness history...

Keep on Keeping On brother.

author by paul o toolepublication date Fri Dec 07, 2007 12:25author address author phone Report this post to the editors

As the gap between rich and poor widens, the poverty trap gets deeper. Poverty or as i'd prefer to call it 'impoverishment', plays an integral, and, Important part of modern society. Besides the anguish and humility suffered by it's victims it provides another thin veil of fear for those who are not in that dreadful predicament. The fear that ...'it could easily be me next', and what is preventing this from ...perhaps two paycheques.
If the government was to 'solve' the homeless problem it would remove one of the tools at it's disposal it has used for years to maintain the element of competition between citizens and help eliminate community through the unconcious sense of fear, a fear we all posess of being abandoned, destitute or homeless.
Bernardos states that 70,000 kids go to bed every night hungry.
The greatest antidote for most of all societies ill's is social inclusion and healthy society. This must never be achieved except as an ideological dream by the poor and working classes, of how the 'other half' lives.
If greater numbers of people see this economic enviroment for the lie it is the greater the chance there will be of a healthier society. Less capitalistic, less exclusionary, less racist, less greedy,...less homelessness. lets hope.....

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