I work in a tight-knit team of supportive colleagues. And I was glad of that warmth when I shared with them my feelings of guilt, my upset, my conscience-wresting this week.
Mid-evening outside the bus station in Newcastle, a regular begging patch, I passed a man, a person who looked to be living on the streets, on the ground. Three people were with him, a mobile phone was out and a fourth person was hovering over, watching, then left. I kept going. I didn’t turn to look. Three people is plenty to take care and call an ambulance.
An ambulance did arrive just a few minutes later – proximity to A&E a blessing here.
I knew there was nothing I could do to add to a situation under control and I had no wish to become a voyeur.
And it’s not that I don’t care. I do care. Very much.
What upset me most was not that this man was unconscious, that he might be seriously ill or worse – but that his trousers were down to his knees, leaving him exposed from behind.
It was the sheer lack of dignity that caught in my throat.
It was the sheer lack of dignity that my conscience couldn’t salve.
I am fortunate that I work with some strong, compassionate colleagues who will challenge assumptions and positions, who will balance your thoughts and feelings whilst holding your emotions in check.
We’re a super-strong team and I am fortunate for that.
I am fortunate too that I have the security of a home, but that hasn’t always been the case. As a student I rented from private landlords and I have done my share of sofa surfing. Pregnant at 24 I moved into temporary hostel accommodation for several months and then I was housed.
I was fortunate then and I am still grateful now, twenty years of living in social housing later.
A young person in Hexham Constituency told me the story of their relative, a professional whose recreational drug use spiralled out of control. They lost their job, couldn’t pay the mortgage and a lack of affordable housing in their village forced them to move into social housing away from their support network. Universal Credits weren’t paid for several weeks and this person ended up on the streets.
“From an uptown apartment to a knife on the a train
It’s not that far
From the sharks in the penthouse to the rats in the basement
It’s not that far
To the bag lady frozen asleep in the park
Oh no it’s not that far” *
Kirsty Maccoll was writing lyrical about Manhattan, but the message is the same – we are all just a couple of steps removed from inimical, circumstantial change.
“It’s a shame to be human it’s a human shame
It seems we’ve forgotten we’re one and the same” *
In this country we celebrate, quite rightly, our NHS, we are thankful for state education but, for whatever reason, we don’t celebrate and we certainly don’t herald, social housing.
The Victorian social reformers prioritised safe, affordable housing for the poor and for the working poor, recognising that human beings had a right to this, that it would go some way to reducing illness and people with secure tenancies and manageable rents were better placed to work.
Does Prudhoe have a social housing crisis?
61 new, affordable rent, 2 bedroom homes are being built and this housing is desperately needed. But … if you are single, if you are a care leaver ready for independent living, if you are a larger family, a multiple-generation family or blended family, you are excluded because of their target occupancy size.
A recent article in the Hexham Courant HERE indicates there are concerns being raised by local councillors that people who are of high priority need are not being housed.
If you live in Prudhoe and your current accommodation is overcrowded there are no 3 or 4 bedroom affordable homes being built and you remain stuck and overcrowded. This is a hidden problem which affects larger families and Shelter’s 2005 report HERE recounts the impact on health, mental health, wellbeing and in particular the risk to children limited by lack of space to play and develop, growing in a household under duress and the long term impact that has on their education and future outcomes.
The very first of Shelter’s recommendations is to build larger, affordable, family homes to rent.
Why are only 2 bedroom properties being built to meet social housing needs in Prudhoe?
Is there something more sinister at play?
Is this social control by stealth, a mission creep of reducing the birth rate? Smaller homes for smaller families?
Is a decision being made only to build homes for smaller families so that people won’t have more children? If that is underpinning planning decisions, people need to be told.
Shelter’s most recent report HERE sets out its vision for the future of social housing with a plan for not just how much housing stock is needed over the next 20 years, but how to effect that from land acquisition to occupation.
What Prudhoe needs is mixed, affordable housing for all shapes and sizes of households, to ensure everyone in the community is housed adequately. It’s a human right and we are all entitled to live with dignity.
*Kirsty MacColl Walking Down Madison