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Editorial: Tent City Protest, Hull.


[8 November 2016]
They are demanding that Hull City Council give homes to our city’s rough sleepers, immediately and permanently, but are protest leader Haydn and his fellow ‘tent city’ dwellers - some of whom, like him, are from West Yorkshire and elsewhere - engaged in a useful campaign locally?

The transition from rough sleeper to home resident is complex and fraught with many difficulties. There is no quick-fix ‘just give them the keys and a roof’ solution, nor can there be. Instead there has to be a system of gradual and appropriately-paced transition, a caring and understanding approach, some ‘tough love’ if needed, all delivered by trained and experienced staff or volunteers.

There are several well-established projects in the city working with rough sleepers, helping them off the streets and eventually into longterm homes of their own.

Humbercare Ltd’s Futures Assessment Centre is based at Westbourne House on Princes Avenue, and is funded by Hull City Council and the welfare benefits system to provide rapid support and immediate hostel accommodation for those who would otherwise sleep on the streets. Humbercare Ltd now also provide emergency shelter and support at Dock House, in partnership with HullHARP. They work with people like Nigel, whom I interviewed earlier this year. Nigel, a recovering alcoholic, approached Humbercare Ltd for help when he lost his home, his addiction had caused a break-up in his relationship and financial difficulties. In no position to sustain a tenancy in his own right, Nigel needed stability, support, and time to get himself well and back on-track. It took Nigel about a year, it was not a straightforward process, but he’s now in a house of his own, sustaining his tenancy, though he still receives floating-support from the team at Humbercare Ltd. He now regularly calls back to Westbourne House, volunteering for various duties there, which is an ongoing help to both The Futures Project and Nigel himself. These outcomes take time, understanding, and support.

Emmaus, a national movement of communities for formerly homeless people, opened The Orchard on Lockwood Street in Hull about a year ago. Supported by Hull City Council, The Orchard provides permanent homes for up to 30 resident ‘companions’. Enterprise is at the heart of the Emmaus Hull and East Riding model. Not only do companions have a home they can call their own forever if they wish, they also have training and working opportunities in the project’s social enterprise - currently furniture and clothing retail. There is a real sense of community and companionship at Emmaus, companions are provided with a stable home, professional support, and the opportunity to regain their self-worth in their own time, making a real contribution to their community. There are currently spaces immediately available at The Orchard, an ongoing opportunity to turn lives around.

It’s projects like these in Hull that generate successful and lasting outcomes for chronic rough sleepers and others that find themselves in such dire need. These are examples of transformative initiatives that Hull City Council funds or supports, delivered by key partner organisations, and which achieve some quite remarkable positive outcomes for those experiencing homelessness locally. These projects are open now, ready to accept admissions, ready to deliver support.

The ‘tent city’ protest has generated a lot of interest, in the news media and online, not least because their camp is directly outside the main entrance of the local BBC studios, a situation which seemed to vex broadcaster Peter Levy considerably in his BBC Look North news interview with protest leader Haydn. The problem with this particular protest is that the protestors have not demonstrated an understanding of the nature of homelessness, and the provision of support, here in Hull. They are not raising an awareness of the complex issues that lead to homelessness, nor the complexities of tackling them. Instead they are diverting attention away from the real issues: a national government agenda which has systematically reduced local council housing stock for decades; a punitive welfare benefits system that degrades the disadvantaged; an economy that favours the wealthy, propped-up by fragile low-paid low-hours employment contracts; insecure and high-cost Private Rental Sector housing for the increasing number of families not able to buy a home of their own.

These issues, none of which are policies set by Hull City Council, are best tackled by constructive dialogue, backed up by data and evidence, with those that do set the agenda - our elected Members of Parliament, Ministers of Government, business leaders, economists, and the like. The ‘tent city’ protestors’ demands are both misplaced and misdirected, and their solution of giving houses to rough sleepers ‘immediately and permanently’ is not in the best interest of those they have set out to help. Worse still, their protest may divert public support and attention away from those local organisations that continue their work with the city’s rough sleepers under ever increasing pressures.

I hope our ‘tent city’ visitors enjoy their stay in Hull, we have a lot to offer.

Jerome Whittingham
Editor
8th November 2016