www.hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk     Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Photo: Harry Tryphonos

Photo: Harry Tryphonos

Humanising homelessness

Harry Tryphonos felt catalysed to write an article about homelessness after seeing the number of homeless people in the Hastings area and the south coast generally – and an awareness of the increasing reliance on charitable causes rather than social schemes to help people.

I remember watching a documentary in which they considered Blackpool’s numerous unfavourable statistics when it came to suicide. It demonstrated that in times of difficulty, people were pulled towards those places in which they had been happy in childhood and thus Blackpool was subject to a pilgrimage of lost souls. With it’s flickering image as a stalwart of English holiday itineraries not yet entirely obscured by the more recent advent of cheap flights abroad, it apparently remains a beacon of hope and comfort to those in the vicinity of rock bottom.

This theory perhaps gives us insight in to why there seems to be a rising number of homeless individuals in our seaside societies, but it doesn’t tackle the issue of homelessness. I think that the term ‘homeless individual’ succinctly encapsulates the problem; these are a people with individual issues of their own which need to be neutralised, and it is therefore not appropriate to consider them en masse.

I hope to look in some depth at homelessness in seaside towns like Hastings and Brighton, however I will not do anything so contemptible as to dehumanise the situation with the usual perfunctory statistics thrown together in front of Oxford fireplaces. To these numbers I confess blissful ignorance, but on behalf of the sunken faces peering from rotting promenade shelters, who’s yellowing eyes met mine as I sailed past in warmth and relative luxury, I must say a word.

Photo: Harry Tryphonos

Photo: Harry Tryphonos

I spend much of my time walking through Hastings aimlessly with a camera around my neck, and I find myself naturally drawn to the unfathomable expressions of those sat behind upturned hats littered with soon-to-be-obsolete copper coins. If a picture says a thousand words, then the face of somebody asking in earnest for change says a thousand verses on the human condition.

It is odd that we as a nation have become so estranged from the effects of malnutrition that those suffering seem in some instances threatening and dangerous. This, I assume, is where the idea of a ‘homeless problem’ stems from. You can bet that if Mr Trustfund was never pestered as he travelled between his country homes that the issue would not be deemed newsworthy. As it stands, the upper class disinclination for confronting the casualties of their way of life has lead to an increased public awareness.

Photo: Harry Tryphonos

Photo: Harry Tryphonos

On the subject of malnutrition, it is unfortunate that it shares numerous symptoms with those produced by drug abuse. Although we should be sophisticated enough to avoid making damning generalisations (such as the ubiquitous excuse: ‘they’ll just spend my donation on drugs anyway’), to argue against the prevalence of drugs in the homeless community seems futile. I myself have walked past groups of people preparing their next hit of heroin in the vast network of alleyways throughout Hastings. All of these seemed affable – and genuinely aggrieved that their habit was on display to a member of the public.

And this should be the crux of the discussion, the only question worth asking: do the homeless want to live the way that they do? If your answer is no, then we as a society must look at where we’ve failed.

It is safe to assume that nobody sets out to lose everything and wind up trying to find shelter from the English winter every night, constantly hassled by police and property owners. It is also fair to say that there is no incentive to embark on the lamentable life of a junkie. So taking these points as granted, it is fair to say that somewhere down the line these people have been failed by the system.

“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members” said Mahatma Ghandi, with the air of somebody stating more than common sense. If, in this 21st century, we are incapable of assisting those who need help the most, then how far have we really come?

There are rows of empty houses up and down the country, owned by rentiers who would rather their property collect dust than below average profits. Countless people own multiple homes, many left unoccupied for long periods of time, but rationalised by some antediluvian ‘dog eat dog’ philosophy. And in an increasingly secular state, how many churches are left to dilapidate until they are picked up by wealthy property developers? Am I wrong to assume that the falling number of church goers could condense in to a smaller number of buildings, leaving a square footage of dry, warm space that could alleviate the concerns of thousands?

And then there is the question of unemployment – and the drain on the state. I find it hard to abide this argument, because there is perennially something to be done. It seems to me that there could never be a situation where nothing could be improved. Give me a team of homeless people and I will find them work collecting litter, maintaining areas of natural beauty, etc. The majority of people undeniably want to work and contribute to society, and how could a tax paying citizen begrudge the distribution of welfare payments if they saw their country improving as a result of the investment, or their lawn being cut, or their dog being walked? And all the while these people are improving and broadening their skill sets while on the lookout for private employment.

Photo: Harry Tryphonos

Photo: Harry Tryphonos

Predominantly, of course, the failure lies with our government and it’s inability to recognise the causes of homelessness, such as mental health issues and the aforementioned drug problems. You can seldom find a homeless man or woman who doesn’t have a story to tell of the, often harrowing, circumstances under which they were forced onto the streets. It is never the case that someone has merely handed in their notice at the office and decided to sit feeling sorry for themselves waiting for hand-outs. These are all vulnerable people who lost control of the direction their life was heading and it is the responsibility of everyone who is momentarily in control of their own life to help with that burden, for we will all seek strength in others before the end.

Unfortunately, the obligation to draw conclusions from one’s musings does not appear reduced for those arrogant enough to discuss subjects that they really know very little about. I have outlined, in minor detail, those areas for improvement which have leapt out to me in the time it has taken my soup to assume the room’s temperature.

It seems to me that if you give loose change to a homeless person that it’s a fantastic act of kindness, but it is rather like putting a plaster on a leaking hosepipe. The long term solution needs to come from the government, which may seem fairly obvious, but don’t just wait for those policies which go some way to helping to appear before you. It is vital that you demand these changes from your government – and you have every right. Not only is it reasonable to expect your government to be able to use existing infrastructure to help sufficiently those in dire need, it is realistic.

Harry Tryphonos’ website: www.harrytryphonos.com

Posted 15:05 Monday, Oct 15, 2018 In: Hastings People

6 Comments


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  1. Harry

    Thanks for the responses, I’m glad that the article seems to have sparked some conversation on the topic!

    Comment by Harry — Thursday, Oct 18, 2018 @ 20:20

  2. Zelly Restorick

    Dear Elizabeth,
    You can connect with the Seaview Project, who are based in St Leonards and support a huge number of people across a wide area – the only place of it kind around here – via their website: http://www.seaviewproject.co.uk
    With every good wish and thank you for contacting us – and for caring.
    Zelly Restorick

    Comment by Zelly Restorick — Thursday, Oct 18, 2018 @ 20:11

  3. Elizabeth

    I feel horrified with pity and paralyzed into doing nothing when I see someone begging on the street. Please can someone tell me how it is possible to donate directly to some organization locally – please give out the details of Sea View. Where is it?

    Comment by Elizabeth — Thursday, Oct 18, 2018 @ 19:54

  4. Natty

    I have worked in the homelessness sector for 18 years. Please do not give money to beggars. People beg when they have addiction issues. If you give them money, you are bringing drug dealers into the area. All the people who give cash to the beggars outside the Coop on London Road: you think you are doing something benevolent, but you are directly bringing dealers, crime and chaos on to the streets of central St Leonards. Give your spare change to Sea View instead who can help more people in a genuinely impactful way.

    Comment by Natty — Wednesday, Oct 17, 2018 @ 22:21

  5. Zelly Restorick

    This evening I attended a Hastings Doughnut Economics Action Group meeting, where a fairer economic system for this town is the vision – one that includes everyone and takes into account the planet’s resources and the environment – and homelessness was talked about. There are a number of excellent organisations in the town doing valuable work in supporting people, against the odds financially, with cuts and funding being taken away. We all can make a difference, individually and collectively. It is time for us to see our shared ground and connect with our humanitarian natures.

    Comment by Zelly Restorick — Monday, Oct 15, 2018 @ 20:23

  6. Sam

    It really upsets me seeing the homeless in the city, and I wonder as I look at the new £300k+ One bedroom flats on my road in a modest and underfunded borough, if the people really know what robbery looks like anymore. Great writing Harry I hope we all can achieve something one day!

    Comment by Sam — Monday, Oct 15, 2018 @ 20:05

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