Suella Braverman should come to Yorkshire and see the plight of the homeless first hand - Christa Ackroyd
I know Saturday mornings are for many of us a relaxing break from the stresses and strains of every day life, the chance to sit down with a cuppa and our favourite newspaper.
I enjoy our trips down memory lane with each other. I love it when we reminisce about happy days or pay tribute to someone whom we all admire. And I certainly don’t want to use this column ever to score political points.
But sometimes I just have to write it as I see it. And respond to things that are simply neither true nor for me morally acceptable.
I fear she does not understand what is going on under our noses in many of our major towns and cities. So I am happy to show her. And for that reason consider this an open letter to a Home Secretary whom I believe is making a political game out of the most unfortunate in our society. And for that reason I cannot and will not be silent.
Firstly let me tell you what I do agree with our Home Secretary about.
This week she took to Twitter or X or whatever you want to call it to say “No one in Britain should be living in a tent on our streets”. And if she had stopped right there I would have nodded and simply asked, so what are you going to do about it ?
But this was no social media post from a woman in charge of our domestic policies to sympathise with those who find themselves sleeping rough.
This was no post announcing government plans to tackle the serious and growing issue of those who find themselves with nowhere to go for a whole host of complex reasons, domestic abuse, cost of living crisis, eviction, release from prison, drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues, family fall outs, divorce, PTSD and many more. No.
This was a cynical attempt by someone in a position of huge power to turn the blame not only on those who live in shop doorways, those who live in our parks and open spaces or hide themselves away in dark corners out of sight and often often of mind, but on the homeless themselves and those who tirelessly help them. Instead of showing kindness, instead of announcing plans and yes, money, to tackle what is becoming a crisis she accuses them of making, and I quote, “a lifestyle choice”.
What is more she threatens those who try to help by providing shelter against the elements with a new civil offence of distributing a tent to someone without a roof over their heads.
Since when has showing compassion for a fellow human being been considered either offensive or indeed an offence? Since when has kindness been rewarded with threats of fines from organisations who spend every moment of their spare time trying to raise money to feed clothe and yes also desperately try to find accommodation for those without?
So let me say here and now if I chose to give a tent or indeed a sleeping bag, along with a hug and a few kind words to someone whose life I can only begin to imagine, arrest me now. Fine me, call me what you want and tell me I am part of the problem. I am not.
But I cannot stand idly by and do or say nothing, just because our friends on the streets may make the place look untidy.
We as charities survive to show kindness because of the kindness and the generosity of others. To threaten to fine us from empty coffers is abhorrent. But you won’t stop us Home Secretary. You simply make us more determined. And we will not be made to feel ashamed of all we do. Neither will we become a political football when a government whose manifesto pledge to end homelessness by the end of the looming end of parliament has so clearly failed. The figures are up not down.
Ms Braverman said so much more that I take issue with.
She has said that most of those living in the streets were from abroad. That is not my experience.
She has warned of an explosion of crime drug taking and squalor as witnessed in San Francisco and Los Angeles. May I remind her we are not America.
We are Great Britain but for many it is not so great. Miss Braverman also says homeless people cause ‘nuisance and distress’ on the streets. Forgive me and forgive them but what else are they to do?
She talks about ‘options’ for rough sleepers. Well tell me what they are, please because at the last Leeds Homelessness Charter meeting we were told the coffers were empty and the hostels were full.
This for me this week has been a new low in British politics. It is not a rant against the conservatives. It is a rant against someone whom I would quite happily take around the streets of Leeds, with my Homeless Street Angels one Thursday evening and say walk with us, talk to those we try and help and say you are sorry, you misunderstood, you didn’t realise, but do not ever say they have made a lifestyle choice.
Who would ever choose to sleep out in all weathers, to suffer the cold, the rain, the humiliation, and yes the danger of bedding down in a doorway, or pitching a tent in the dark and say leave me alone, this is the choice I have made?
We at Leeds Homeless Street Angels think very carefully before we give out a tent and we only do so as a last resort. Instead we support scores upon scores of people as they find accommodation, accommodation which I may add that often doesn’t have carpets, a bed, cooking facilities somewhere to sit or even a light bulb.
So we beg for them and take them there along with food parcels and advise on how to turn a chaotic life into one to be proud of. Because the solution is not always providing four walls. It is about making a place a home and a place of safety. And for that reason we only give out tents when all else fails.
So I am sorry if Miss Braverman believes ‘the law-abiding majority’ considers those on the streets as the cause of ‘nuisance and distress’. I happen to believe we are a kinder, fairer and more compassionate country than that.
Unless she takes up my invitation to get to know those who find themselves with nowhere to go, those who rely on cash strapped councils or charities for support, she will never truly understand.
Because trust me, as someone once told me, when you look into the eyes of a desperate man or woman, when you spend time listening to their stories, only the most hard hearted would turn their backs and say... it’s not my problem, it’s yours.