Our Manifesto

Alan

We speak a lot about what we can do to reduce homelessness, to make sure people have homes of their own and aren’t being forced to live on the street. Obviously it’s such a complicated issue, that there are hundreds of answers, and not one of them is totally right. We may never ‘fix’ homelessness. But this campaign would be pointless if we didn’t at least try. There are several things we can do to at least better the situation; I always tell people, at the very least, look someone in the eye when you pass them on the street. You don’t need to give them change, offer them your bed or change the world, but if you give someone a nod or a smile as you walk past, you’ve done something. If you have more time, you can buy someone a coffee or help out with your local shelter or charity.

But at the end of the day, these are all things that are just making a shit situation slightly better. What we need to do is to make sure that the shit situation doesn’t exist in the first place. All these things won’t reduce homelessness in the long term, and that’s what we need to look to. We need serious legislative, political change, and now – in the UK at least – we have the opportunity to create that change. The General Election, even if you think it’s a foregone conclusion (and it’s not, not until the final vote is cast), actually gives us, citizens, the electorate, normal fucking people, the opportunity to put into power a party that

A) genuinely cares about reducing homeless and;

B) knows what to do, and will follow up on their promises.

Now, I’m not going to tell you exactly who to vote for. Instead, I’m going to tell you what measures are needed, based on research and interviews we’ve done with people at both ends of the scale – professionals and members of the homeless community themselves – and then I’m going to tell what each party offers. Then, make your own decision.

What needs to be done now?

  • More housing!
    • A key issue that all the main parties recognise is that there is a desperate and urgent need to build houses. Not only do more houses need to be built, however, but the government needs to promise to keep those houses affordable, and stick to that promise. This means rather than eventually raising the prices of the housing built, the property needs to stay affordable for low earners, either through state ownership or a cap on price hikes.
    • As well as housing in general, there is also a need for state-owned social housing, to provide stable, long-term accommodation for those with low to no income.
    • More houses need to be built year-on-year in order to maintain stability for future generations getting into the housing market, otherwise we’re likely to end up with even higher levels of homelessness and in turn, more crime, higher unemployment, a worse economy and basically an even shitter country.
  • Funding for local councils, specifically allocated to homelessness.
    • Local councils need to be given the resources (basically, money), specifically allocated to help those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. As reasons for homelessness and statistics surrounding it vary from city to city, local councils need to be given the freedom and the funding to deal with the issue as best suits their local area.
    • Councils ought to be given guidelines on how to reduce homelessness in their area. Part of the support given to councils should be linking them up with professional homelessness services in their area, who have the skills and experience to reduce homelessness if given the resources
    • Funding devolved to local councils should include money earmarked for emergency shelters, move-on accommodation, increased mental health provision and employment support services.

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  • More shelters.
    • Not only are there not enough emergency shelters, the ones that exist are often filled to capacity. While there are also hostels and YMCAs available, these usually charge from around £15 a bed, so aren’t available to everyone.
    • The amount of shelters in existence has decreased in recent years, or have had to reduce in size due to lack of resources, lack of volunteers and lack of funding. They need support and funding in order to carry on the fantastic work they already do, and this should be coming from the government and councils.
    • There’s a need for shelters for specific needs; we have a rapidly increasing amount of women and young people becoming homeless, and these are groups that are likely to feel intimidated in mixed shelters; the thought that if you’re already on the street, and yet are still too scared to go to a shelter, shouldn’t be an issue and needs to be addressed by creating more shelters tailored to certain groups.
    • Shelters are only a means unto themselves; there is an urgent need for move-on accommodation, so that people, once they’re no longer in crisis, can be given the long-term stability (which is not found in an emergency shelter or hostel), to move on, find a job, and start to feel secure again.
  • Rent caps.
    • One of the biggest causes of homelessness is people getting forced out of their homes by ridiculous, unchecked rent increases from private landlords. One of the solutions to this is to put a cap on rents, to ensure enough of the houses that are out there are at an affordable price for low to middle income earners.
    • We also need caps on rent once people start renting so we don’t have families moving into a house before getting pushed out again soon after because the rent on their own home has suddenly been pushed up to a level they can’t afford.
    • As well as rent caps, people need to be given secure, longer contracts, so that they have the time to settle in a house and start to build a home. It’s no use having a contract for a year when you know that at the end of the year you’re likely to have to pack up and move again as the house is given to someone who can afford a higher rent. Having a contract of 3-5 years gives someone the security they need to settle down and makes it easier to sustain jobs and families.

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What needs to be done in future?

  • Benefit reforms.
    • In recent years, there have been catastrophic changes to the benefits system. Reforms such as Universal Credit have fucked up the system for so many people and when you’re in an insecure situation, potentially without easy access to a computer, or with serious mental health issues, the system can be so difficult to get around that people end up giving up on even trying to access essential benefits.
    • Another recent reform to benefits that is sure to lead to increased homelessness is the abolition of housing benefits to under 21s. Thanks to cuts in education and less support for young people-focused homeless services, 16-25s are the fastest growing homeless population, and the abolition of housing benefit to people of this age has been condemned by all major UK homeless charities as almost certain to lead to an even higher increase of homeless young people.
    • These reforms need to be reversed. Young people from the age of 16 need access to housing benefit and the entire system needs to be overhauled and developed into one that doesn’t punish people or impose sanctions, but serves to provide easy access to benefits for those that need it most.
    • Ensure people without employable skills or experience, have easy, immediate access to programmes where they can gain these skills and experience. This includes ex-convicts, immigrants and people from less-educated backgrounds.
  • Awareness of causes of homelessness.
    • Services for mental health, domestic abuse and addiction need to become a new priority in looking at how to prevent homelessness in future. While these are just some of the key causes of homelessness (and there are so many), they are an example of causes that are often overlooked in the discussion around homelessness. As a result, they don’t receive the funding or attention they need.
    • More attention needs to be given to the root causes of homelessness, not just the symptoms. The government needs to more actively fund, promote and support services for mental health, domestic abuse and addiction.

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  • Better education.
    • The importance of education should never be underestimated. Good free schools provide better education and more opportunities, which means reducing future homelessness. As previously mentioned, more and more 16-25s are becoming homeless, by leaving education, whether that’s school, college or uni, and being totally unprepared for the world. Couple this with the lack of opportunities now given to young people (e.g. cuts to housing benefit), and future generations are now more at risk of homelessness than ever before.
    • State education must be properly funded, all kids given the opportunity to good education and all schools – especially those in more deprived areas – must have the resources they need (equipment, staff, space and food). This support will come in part from local councils but crucially, it needs to come from government in ensuring that every school has enough funding to spend on the resources they need.
    • We also need to look at what is taught in schools. This is only now starting to be recognised, but students ought to be given a basic level of knowledge about homelessness, so that they can recognise the warning signs and be able to tell if they, or one of their friends or family, is at risk of becoming homeless. This would include teaching on relationships, mental health, addiction, and being given a basic knowledge of the support services that are available. If young people are taught about the warning signs of homelessness at an early age, they are far less likely to fall into the trap themselves.
  • More funding for health services.
    • This may seem like an obvious one, but unfortunately, it is too often taken for granted. Health services need to be able to work effectively, to have the funding and resources they need, and to be able to actually help people.
    • Specifically with regards to homelessness, more funding needs to be allocated to addiction rehabilitation and mental health services. As issues that can lead directly to homelessness, tackling them efficiently at an early stage, by having a well-funded public health service, is crucial.

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Now, take a close look at each party’s manifesto (links to each are below), and see who’s really working to end homelessness, and who actually knows what to do. And then, after the election, make sure that the government (whoever that is) is actually carrying out these measures, and pushing to end homelessness as it is now, and preventing it for future generations. Make sure to lobby the government, to write to your local MP, to the Prime Minister, to your local council. Campaign for more housing, for rent control and for benefit reforms. Push the government to do what they need to do.

Labour Manifesto: http://www.labour.org.uk/manifesto2017

Conservative Manifesto: https://www.conservatives.com/manifesto

Lib Dem Manifesto: http://www.libdems.org.uk/manifesto

Green Party Manifesto: https://www.greenparty.org.uk/green-guarantee/

UKIP Manifesto: http://www.ukip.org/manifesto2017

 

Vote for the policies, not the person. We have an opportunity to reduce homelessness, and now. Don’t waste it.

The Hardest Fight

We were very lucky to recently be commissioned by Exeter Phoenix and Rife magazine to create a film-based campaign, entitled The Hardest Fight. The Hardest Fight will look at mental health issues in sport, primarily boxing, and will look closely at how boxing can actually help you to deal with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Working with several boxing gyms, first we’ll be releasing a short documentary focusing on Empire Fighting Chance, based in Bristol. The club runs numerous programmes for young people and adults suffering from mental health issues.

Below is a short documentary created by England Boxing where users of the club discuss the benefits they’ve experienced from boxing.

Many figures, from sport and elsewhere, have discussed the benefits of boxing in fighting depression and mental health issues. Boxers including Ricky Hatton and Frank Bruno have spoken openly about their mental health issues and how they’ve worked through them, and even Prince Harry recently spoke about how boxing helped him to deal with grief and depression.

‘The Hardest Fight of My Life’, commissioned by Exeter Phoenix, will be a 3 minute short film about a young boxer struggling with depression in the lead up to his first fight, and will use audio from interviews to describe the thoughts that go through your head when experiencing depression.

If you have experience with either boxing or perhaps have struggled with mental health issues in the past, you can visit Mind to ask about what services are available. If you’re interested in being involved in the campaign, please email info@pastlesproductions.com.

That’s a Wrap!

Slightly surreal, but today was our last shoot day for Sleeping Rough… It was a tough shoot, sometimes taking some real bravery from cast and crew to pull through, but we did it, and we couldn’t have done it without every single member of the team, from van driver to make up artist, to actors. We’ve also been stunned by the support we’ve been given; from regular places such as Spring of Hope and the Wild Goose Café, but also from regular people we’ve met on the street; whilst filming, we’ve had so many people come up and ask what we’re doing, becoming genuinely interested in the project and the all round positive reaction from the public has been more than we could’ve asked for.

And of course, THANK YOU for supporting the project, we wouldn’t have got this far without the support of everyone that pledged to the Kickstarter to make this film happen.

Now the hard work starts… With festival deadlines looming, tours to shelters, schools and colleges, and of course cast and crew screenings to organise, we have to jump straight in with the edit. Wish us luck, and stay tuned for more updates!

Sleeping Rough: Homeless Awareness Week and Rehearsals Round 1

Homeless Awareness Week was a massive success, culminating in the Sleep Out, where over 100 people helped raise more than £10k for various homeless services in Bristol and nationally, including One25, Crisis Centre Ministeries and The Big Issue Foundation.
After the Sleep Out, we had a weekend packed full of rehearsals for the film. It was amazing to see our cast working together for the first time, and some really powerful moments were created; even though this was only our first weekend of rehearsals, I’m already very proud of the cast we have. We also drank way more coffee than is healthy.

We’ve had some amazing creative responses to the project, including songs, videos, drawings and more. We’ll be releasing these over the course of the campaign, but keep sending them in! Any submissions are really valuable, even if it’s just a quick sketch or a short poem written on the bus.

As a late Christmas present, here’s a short film made by the extremely talented Simon Tytherleigh, highlighting just how volatile the housing market is.

Interview with StreetWise

A new street newspaper for the homeless: A start-up that hopes to make a real difference. Sleeping Rough Film talks to the founders, Dave Wotherspoon and Jennifer Marshall to get the lowdown…

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Jennifer and Dave believe their highly structured system is the best way to cater to the needs of each specific group within the homeless community. We decided to have a chat with them to get all the details about their new venture. Before we begin, here is a brief rundown of the basis for StreetWise…

StreetWise is a street newspaper for the homeless, aiming to give back to the vendors by supporting them through a ‘personal community reward fund’, made up from the sales of 60p per copy of StreetWise and public donations. All of the charity’s overheads will be met by grant funding, advertising revenue and public donations, meaning that all funds raised go directly back to the vendors. There are supplementary publications including ‘Stood Down’, the proceeds of which go to healthcare & wellbeing courses for Armed Forces Veterans,  ‘Under the Rainbow’ which does the same for LGBT community members and ‘Crash’, which provides the same service to under 34 year olds. On top of that there is a surplus fund that provides all other vendors with the same services. Vendors have a maximum selling period of 5 years. All vendors must be referred to StreetWise through a recognised and affiliated homeless service provider.

 

Melita: Could you briefly describe both your backgrounds and how you both began working together?

Dave (CEO): I joined the Royal Engineers at age 16 and served in the Corps for 8 years before leaving for family reasons.  Having experienced homelessness myself and been a Big Issue vendor for several years, I have insight into what are realistic solutions for the genuinely homeless. I identified the potential for an affordable, independent street paper and infrastructure which would solely benefit those who are truly homeless.

Jennifer (Managing Editor): Having had a career providing PA and operational support in various commercial and non-profit sectors, I returned to education to study Journalism & Sociology and Human Rights & Ethics and am currently part-way through a PhD.  I bought the Big Issue from Dave and after becoming friends, Dave began sharing his insights with me and between us we formulated the basis for StreetWise.

 

M: Could you sum up how StreetWise aims to improve a vendor’s life?

D: StreetWise will provide homeless people with a day-to-day income and funding for homeless charities to rehabilitate the vendor and then provide further funding for rehousing. All the money raised from StreetWise is invested directly back into the vendors. For example, using a vendor’s community reward fund, we might put him through college to become a bricklayer. He’d sell StreetWise 4-5 days a week and go to college 1 day a week. Then we would help him to find a bricklaying job and we would then spend the rest of his community reward fund either by purchasing a property and leaving him with a reduced rate mortgage or to pay for his rent in advance. If we don’t manage to rehabilitate, re-employ and rehouse, I consider that a failure of the program.

 

M: What’s the reasoning behind the 5 year time limit?

D: The StreetWise programme is not designed to be a long-term option.  It is designed to engender a sense of purpose and to encourage vendors to be goal-oriented. Vendors will be able to start using their fund from year 2 to access training and/or education courses, reconcile debts, access the job market and ultimately become rehoused.  Once rehoused, if a vendor has not yet found employment, they will have a 6 month period of grace to continue selling StreetWise, at the end of which they will be entitled to a further 6 months of community reward funding.

Dave and Jen, the founders of StreetWise

Dave and Jen, the founders of StreetWise

Owain: It’s a well thought-out idea, providing different services for different people based on their needs (army veterans, LGBT, etc); in what ways are the services you’ll be providing different, and in what ways are they the same? And what specific needs are independent to each group?

J: All vendors will receive the same opportunities to access health and wellbeing courses, training and/or education, debt management and financial advice, and re-housing. StreetWise will also offer mentoring, via our volunteer force and our readership, which can be utilised in any way that fits the vendor’s aspirations.

D: In terms of the different needs of each group, armed forces veterans often face problems in adjusting back into civilian life and can also be dealing with issues such as PTSD.  Many veterans become homeless because these factors contribute to a breakdown in their relationship.  LGBTQ community members often face discrimination and violence while sleeping rough and the hostel systems are predominantly occupied by heterosexual males, which can be intimidating.  As with homeless women, the LGBTQ community can be exploited and be the victims of sexual grooming and predatory practices. Young homeless people are vulnerable on several fronts and can have missed out on their education through non-attendance at school, been subject to physical and emotional abuse and are also at risk of being drawn into use of drugs and alcohol.

There is also provision for all vendors who do not fall into any of these demographics. It is important to point out, though, that those who would be considered particularly vulnerable would not be accepted onto the vendor programme and instead we would advise the referring organisation to refer them to local authority or health services.

 

O: What gave you the idea to split the funds into groups?

J: Creating separate funds allows for transparency in how the money paid by vendors for their publications is saved and, in turn, spent. Funds from each supplement will be added to a healthcare and wellbeing fund for each of those demographics (armed forces veteran vendors, LGBTQ vendors, and vendors aged between 18 – 34).  We expect circulation of each supplement to be in direct correlation with the proportion of vendors from each demographic, which will in turn be reflected in the value of each fund.

In addition, we wanted to keep funding for healthcare and wellbeing separate from the community reward fund, as it will be available in the first 12 months of the vendor programme, during which time, a vendor cannot access their community reward fund.  The health and wellbeing funds will be available to all vendors based on need, whereas the community reward fund will be awarded to each vendor based on their sales and donations from the general public.

 

O: It’s very important to have a goal, such as putting people into jobs and education, as you plan to do; are you working with any charities/organisations on this, and could you say a bit more about how the process would work?

J: We wanted to create a system which takes the basic model of the homeless street paper, which, in our opinion, has not evolved in over 30 years, and build an organisation which puts the homeless at its centre, around which will evolve the services and resources they need to progress through from start to finish. Because third party homeless service providers build up relationships with their clients, they are best placed to refer clients to us who they believe would engage with the programme.  To be referred to StreetWise, a homeless individual must not have any dependent children and must be sleeping rough, in squats, night shelters, hostels or sofa surfing between addresses.  Once a vendor begins the programme, his/her progress will be tracked. There are no targets involved.  What a vendor gets out of the programmes relates directly to what they put in. As the vendor progresses through the programme, the referring service provider will be kept up-to-date with their progress.

 

M: What are StreetWise’s plans for the future? Where do you see yourselves by 2020?

J: We have already built collaborative relationships with homeless service providers in Manchester, having signed up to the Manchester Homelessness Charter and began consulting with organisations who are part of Streetsupport Net, and the Big Change initiative. StreetWise’s long-term aim is to replicate our model throughout the UK in 19 different regions, and build similar relationships with service providers in those regions. We expect to be servicing around 4000 vendors nationwide and for there to be vendors successfully exiting the programme.  We would like to expand our collaborative relationships and our aim is to create and expand the StreetWise community.

We do not perceive StreetWise to be a tool for making commentary on the socio-political conditions which have caused the levels of homelessness we see today, though there will be no doubt be content that addresses these issues; ultimately this would make no immediate or tangible difference to the day-to-day situation of the person on the street.  Instead, we have devised a system, including the editorial stance, to maximise the appeal of the publications (which notably do not stand in any particular political camps), which will drive sales, which will drive advertising revenue, and in turn will enable a vendor to benefit to the greatest extent. StreetWise vendors will also, by default, be members of the charity because they build the funds up themselves, and they will also have the opportunity to work for us in the future and become Trustees if they so wish.

 

Melita: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us about StreetWise. We wish you and your vendors all the best for the future!

Interview with Stephen Robertson, CEO of The Big Issue Foundation

Yesterday Stephen Robertson, CEO of The Big Issue Foundation kindly took some time out of his day to chat to Melita, co-producer of ‘Sleeping Rough‘, about homelessness, what everyday people can do to help and what he thinks of our concept. Take a look at what he had to say…

by Melita Cameron-Wood

Stephen addressing students at London Metropolitan Uni

Stephen addressing students at London Metropolitan Uni

 

M: Why do you think homelessness is so high and rising at the moment?

S: In simple terms if you have no money and no mates, then you are more likely to spend more time outside. The ending of a short-term tenancy is now the major contributor towards homelessness and in the past it was always seen to be a thing centred around relationship breakdown. Of course, that is still a feature, but there are things that are within the realm of government and local authorities that contribute towards the pressures that can result in somebody becoming homeless, so the recent activity around benefit capping is a contributor too. I suppose the language is quite important too, because the term benefit sounds like it is a privilege.

 

M: Hmm, rather than a right…

S: Yes, the original phrase was social security – security being the key thing. Now it sounds like you are going on a benefits holiday. I think that masks the point that actually we are as a society reducing levels of security for vulnerable people. Then it follows that it is more likely that they will experience poverty and will run out of friends and money and end up spending more time outside.

 

M: Do you think the main way to improve people’s situations on the streets is through governmental action?

S: I think it takes a combined approach to make a difference because one of the things that will happen to people when they hit the street is that their problems will get worse. You might be more likely to develop an addiction issue, a mental health issue. You then might find it more difficult to negotiate the different processes that you need to go through in order to get access to social security and access to housing. In other words, as you slide down, climbing back up becomes increasingly hard.

 

M: What do you think the main thing is that everyday people can do to help?

S: Well, going through parliament at the moment is the bill aimed at reducing homelessness. This encapsulates a greater sense of joining up the various players and organisations to create a much more rounded solution. As we know there is a clear lack in housing and in America the ‘Housing First’ option has proved to be very successful. In other words getting people housed, then dealing with the other issues that they have got from outside is more effective than targeting the issues that people have outside in order to get them inside.

People can definitely support that bill by writing to their MP in a very practical way, but there are also lots of good voluntary organisations set up that are under pressure from funding cuts and supporting those organisations through fundraising, donating or perhaps volunteering are some of the fairly simple options. At the Big Issue, we give people the opportunity to start their own business and to earn money in a legitimate way that isn’t committing crime or begging. So if people simply buy a magazine from a Big Issue vendor each week, the vendors will benefit from that not only financially, but also socially; one of the other things that can happen to people who are experiencing homelessness is a huge sense of isolation and with that begins that journey of looking inward rather than looking outward, that could take you to mental health issues and so on.

 

M: I thought that about your slogan actually – “A hand up rather than a hand out.” It really sums it up, because people can lose their sense of self-worth out on the street. But I think there is always the danger that once a roof has been put over someone’s head, then the government thinks ‘right, we’ve ticked that box’ and abandons the people.

S: Supporting people in their tenancies and the process of living indoors is important for some people. People will often tell you that when they were first housed that they spent a lot of time sleeping on the floor rather than the bed, because that was what they were more comfortable with, so you should never underestimate the value of having accommodation, but also the challenges that come with it, particularly if someone has been outside for a long time, in terms of getting their head around it.

 

M: Yes, I think continued support is really important.

S: Precisely. And unfortunately we live in an environment where there is increased pressure on funding – it is going to get less and less. And so those options for support are, where possible, being picked up by not-for-profit organisations. So again, in terms of practical help, people can probably help the most by supporting those organisations.

 

Big Issue customers taking part in 2015 event, 'The Big Sleep Out'

Big Issue customers taking part in 2015 event, ‘The Big Sleep Out’

 

M: I was looking at the statistics this morning on The Big Issue Foundation website. I was interested in the gender ratio and the nationalities of people living on the street. Could you expand about the general trends in the homeless demographic in the UK?

S: I would really recommend having a look at Crisis‘s website. I’d also recommend having a look at Homeless Link‘s website because they have some pretty detailed assessments of what is going on. With the broadest of brushes, the street homeless population is majority male, single men. The reasoning around that is that the statutory support for single men is the lowest, so you are not seen as the priority need. If you are a woman with children, you would be higher up the list for support. The mix is very diverse in terms of where you look, so in London it’ll look different than it might do in a rural area like Cornwall.

You’ll see a greater number of economic migrants, people who believe in whatever way that being in London in whatever instance is preferable to being where they were. Sometimes people will think that London streets are paved with gold, when in fact they are paved with concrete with cardboard over the top. There are groups of working homeless people, who have an occupation but not at a level that allows them to easily access rented accommodation, so you might be sleeping with your friends in a car park, and then getting up and working on a building site every day, holding your life together by washing in the loos of Waterloo train station, brushing your teeth and looking kind of respectable.

 

M: And in terms of The Big Issue and the sellers, do people tend to progress onto other jobs afterwards, what is the general timespan of work as a Big Issue vendor?

S: The average timespan is 1-2 years, of using that mechanism to earn cash. What selling The Big Issue requires is face to face sales skills and there are many people who would not want to do a face to face sales job, let alone at a time of crisis. When you choose to start buying and selling the magazine, you become much more visible. You simply put on a red piece of plastic with The Big Issue printed on it and suddenly you are not who you think you are, you are who other people think you are and that might be homeless, feckless, idle, drug-addicted. It’s a huge challenge for people to get over those stereotypes because some of your potential customers will be looking at you in fear and prejudice and you might struggle because of the other things that are going on in your life to create that connectivity between you and the public, so quite a few people drop out at that stage.

For those who don’t, the journey begins from the decision to sign up to start selling the magazine, but it is a self-determining journey so the skills that you develop through selling are important life skills. It is about timekeeping, it is about budgeting, about overcoming the prejudices that occur when you are selling. Your sense of accomplishment from earning money is the beginning of that huge journey, for some people that will be a journey that leads to other opportunities later. In answer to your question, everyone goes on a journey. That journey might lead to other employment opportunities, it can lead to just a greater degree of stability through the process of work, which has a positive impact on how you feel about yourself.

 

M: A return to a degree of normality I suppose. Going out and doing a job…

S: Yes, the value of getting up and going to work and the discipline attached to that should not be underestimated. It can mean that you are better able to cope and make decisions than you were before.

 

M: I saw that the Big Issue Foundation has organised another bike ride event from London to Paris. Do you think event based fundraising is one of the best ways of doing it? How does your fundraising tend to function generally?

S: Event based fundraising offers people a very participative experience. The chance to actually do something that they perhaps haven’t done before and raise money through that commitment, time and effort. For instance, next Friday we have a sleep out at St. John’s Church. We have got 90 people, some of our vendors, taking part in an event, which is not rough sleeping in the true sense of the word by any means, but it is a participative event aimed at educating. It gives people some messages that they can take away and tell other people.

 

M: Can I ask briefly about the ‘Sleeping Rough’ film’s concept; what is your first impression of it? How do you think we could improve what we are doing?

S: I think it is really important, as you are already doing, to gain access to people with lived experience and I think that voice should be really loud because I think it is the most powerful. Also the point that I made earlier about who is homeless and who isn’t and the imagery that is portrayed. It’s relatively easy to overly portray stereotypes with a view to getting the message and the seriousness across and sometimes that can slide into stereotypes. That is of course a little bit like my point about who is and who isn’t homeless, when you look around a room, you’ve already put on a certain filter. So look in the harder places to get some of that insight would be my view.

 

M: Do you think it is possible to incite change through the project or do you see it as a drop in the ocean?

S: It depends where there are opportunities to view. The web is very powerful if you have decent content from supportive channels. It’s about how you get it out there. There is a homelessness film festival every year, so again Google that. That is the kind of platform where things get shown. Maybe you’ll get lucky!

 

M: Fingers crossed! Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to me.

S: Pleasure!

 

The Big Issue Foundation is a financially independent charity and the charity arm of The Big Issue. You can find out more about them here, and also email us, Tweet us or Facebook us. 

Sleeping Rough Kickstarter is LIVE!

After months of preparation, the Kickstarter campaign for @SleepingRoughFilm has finally gone live, and we are calling on you to follow the link, watch the video and SHARE. This project is so important and has so much potential to make a difference, but it really cannot be done without your support. #youcanhelp

“There is something really tangible that people can do.”

This morning, the Senior Policy Officer at Crisis, Alice Ashworth, kindly took some time out of her working day to speak to us about our Sleeping Rough project and the work that Crisis does to improve the situation of homeless people in the UK.

by Melita Cameron-Wood

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M: One of the main things that we have noticed is that homelessness is not only incredibly high, but continues to rise at a steady rate. Why do you think that is?

A: In England, rough sleeping has doubled since 2010 and it has increased by 30% since last year; this is a considerable and a rising problem across England. And the important thing to remember is that behind every one of those statistics is a person in a very vulnerable situation at crisis point. There are lots of causes for it, but those causes are quite clear. More and more people are struggling to pay for a roof over their heads in an increasingly insecure market. We are seeing cuts to housing benefits, cuts to homelessness services that have really made it very difficult for people to keep a roof over their heads.

 

M: Could you also touch briefly on the proportions of men and women living on the street? 

A: There is an issue with the law as it stands in England and there are many, many people who are not entitled to help under the current law and that is predominantly single, homeless people without attendant children, who if they go to their council, will be turned away. So, we do find that a large proportion of single homeless people are men. But that said, I think anybody who lives in a small to large city in the UK will probably have noticed more and more rough sleepers on the streets. I mean, I live in London and it is really hard not to notice that we are seeing more and more people sleeping on the streets. But often, women who are rough sleeping tend to be more hidden because of fear of violence and that is a very real fear. People sleeping on the street are 13 times more likely to be a victim of violence.

 

M: The statistics are really quite shocking.

A: They are really shocking. One of the most shocking statistics is that the average age of death of a homeless person is now 47, which is 30 years younger than the national average.

 

M: That is very low. Getting the statistics out there in the open really helps people to visualise the problem in a more real way. Could you talk to me about the work that Crisis does and the approaches used to tackle problems that homeless people are facing?

A: Crisis works with people to try and identify long term solutions to ending their homelessness. So, we offer a range of education, learning and training issues, along with a wrap-around support to address housing issues too. We have 11 centres across the country in England, Scotland and Wales and we work with people to help them secure stable jobs and stable homes. Last year, we helped over 700 people into stable jobs and we helped over 500 people secure stable housing.

 

M: In general, is there a high success rate with the people who take part in the educational projects? Is there a high incidence of relapse?

A: Well, repeat homelessness is a problem and in London especially. If somebody was homeless in the past, they are more likely to become homeless again. That is why Crisis really tries to address the underlying issues about why somebody might have a relapse and fall back into homelessness. We try to work with them to find a sustainable way of addressing the problem in the long term and work is a really good way out of homelessness. Not only because it helps people pay their rent in a sustainable way, but also because it helps address issues like lack of self-esteem and lack of confidence. Being homeless is a really isolating experience. It can have a really damaging effect, so we provide a package of support that can help people address any mental health and well-being issues, as well as targeting basic skill gaps or housing need.

 

M:  What do you think everyday people can do to help out?  

A: Well, people can contact support services in their area, such as Streetlink [the London branch is contactable on this number: 020 7840 4430] and help individual rough sleepers in that way. But the other thing that is worth saying is that even a kind word, a small gesture like buying someone a cup of tea, can be incredibly meaningful to someone who is at a really low ebb or feeling really desperate, cold and lonely.

The Homelessness Reduction Bill is a really historic opportunity to change the law and resolve a long-standing injustice.

M:  Yes, I suppose it might be the first time that they talk to someone that day… 

A: Absolutely. If people feel comfortable going and having a conversation with someone, then that can mean quite a lot. Also, at the moment, there is something really tangible that people can do. I mentioned before that there is a huge issue with the law as it currently stands, with a large group of people just not eligible for help under the current system and we are supporting a private members’ bill called the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which is currently going through parliament and it has its first debate this Friday [28th October] in parliament. So we are calling on campaigners, whether they have experienced homelessness themselves or not, to call on their local MP to turn up that debate on Friday. It is vital that we get 100 MPs in parliament on Friday, in order to ensure that the bill can go through.

 

M: One of my questions was actually about what should be done on a governmental level to change the current situation… 

A: Research commissioned by Crisis is really clear that government policies are having an impact on homelessness. Particularly in decisions concerning welfare reform, we have seen really significant cuts to housing benefits. We have seen a significant rise in the use of benefit sanction and these decisions make it harder and harder for people to keep a roof over their heads. This is why the Homelessness Reduction Bill is a really historic opportunity to change the law and resolve a long-standing injustice. The government has disclosed that it is lending its support to the bill, which is hugely welcome and is a good demonstration of support from the government to take meaningful steps to tackle homelessness in England.

 

M: Definitely an exciting opportunity for change. Let’s hope that the right number of MPs turn up on Friday!

A: Absolutely!

 

M: Just briefly, what do you think about the Sleeping Rough project?

A: Any attempt to raise awareness of the homelessness crisis that we currently have in England is really, really welcome and I would applaud any effort to draw attention to the issue. Many people are really shocked to learn that homelessness is rising in a country that is as developed as England, which is essentially a rich nation, but we still have people living in poverty and sitting on the streets. People should be angry about this! At Crisis, we are clear that homelessness isn’t inevitable and there are political decisions that can be made to change homelessness and that is why we really welcome the government’s commitment to changing the law. It is something that many people are shocked about – the statistics that we mentioned previously.  For example, homeless people are 9 times more likely to take their own life. There is a reason why people should be angry and any effort to communicate the very real dangers of homelessness and rough sleeping are really, really welcome.

 

M: Yes, I definitely think an emphasis on the statistics is a really hard-hitting way of driving the reality home. What do you think the best way would be to reach the largest possible audience with the film? We are currently planning on contacting charities, university societies, can you think of any other ways of improving its reach?

A: Our experience at Crisis is that there are a lot of people in the general population who care about this issue. We work with 10,000 volunteers for Crisis at Christmas time. There are a lot of members of the public who are angry about this issue. Obviously, social media is a great way to reach people these days and to get people to talk about the issue with their friends. The fact that we have the Homelessness Reduction Bill going through parliament at the moment is shining a really welcome spotlight on the issue. Just last week, we had over 200 campaigners, many of whom had experienced homelessness themselves, coming down to Westminster and arranging meetings with their MP to talk about the issue. There is lots of interest on our social media pages. When you can find a good hook, that is a great way of contacting a large number of people.

 

M: Do you think there is any particular aspect of homelessness that we should be focusing on in order to make the final product as accurate as possible?

A: Like I say, this certainly feels like an exciting time, with a very real opportunity to change the law on homelessness. That would resolve a long-standing injustice, where many people just aren’t entitled to any help whatsoever. That is very topical, but obviously depending on when the film is released, there might be new changes and opportunities afoot. Changing the law on homelessness is an area that we think has the potential to really improve support for a lot of people and it is also worth saying that what this bill would do, at least in the legislation, would prevent people becoming homeless in the first place. Obviously, prevention is better than cure. If you prevent somebody becoming homeless in the first place, then you prevent all sorts of other support needs from potentially escalating, not to mention all sorts of other financial implications for public spending.

 

M: Absolutely, this sounds like a really exciting time and I would urge everyone to take a minute out of their day to send a short email to their local MP, encouraging them to attend parliament on Friday. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to talk to me. We’ll definitely send you a link to the final product, once we have finished the film.

A: Great. We look forward to seeing it!

 

We call on anyone who wants to help to contact their local MP and encourage them to turn up to vote this Friday 28th. If you have any personal experiences or are keen to get involved in improving the current homelessness situation, let us know in the comments or send an email to info@pastlesproductions.com.

Smile at a Stranger

Tonight I visited one of Smile at a Stranger‘s soup kitchens in Exeter, chatted to some great characters and got some fascinating stories. The team there do a fantastic committed job, and I was astounded by the commitment of these guys, and by the feeling of community between everyone that’s there. #SleepingRoughFilm is going really well, with loads of interviews having been collected, and a solid story starting to form… With many more places to visit, and people to meet, make sure to keep an eye out.

The Fisher-Knight’s Tale

Sarah Vigars, of Wild Toy Theatre is embarking on an ambitious project, creating a pop-up puppet show for children and adults. With a bit of help from yourselves, and hopefully Arts Council England, she’ll be able to turn 7 drawings into 7 puppets… Give the video a watch, and if you’re interested, follow the link below to donate, or share for others to help Sarah on her noble quest.

http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-fisher-knights-tale