October 9, 2018
What does homelessness feel like?
This short audio story is a ‘verbatim’ piece, edited together and re-recorded following conversations with rough sleepers and other homeless people in Hull. What you hear in the story are the words of the people I spoke with. Together, their phrases help us to understand not just what homeless is – but what it feels like.
Produced for World Homelessness Day, October 2018.
My thanks to the Emmaus Street Outreach Team in Hull, to the participants that shared their experiences with me, and for the continuing resourcing support of HullHARP.
(Music: Between Worlds, by Aussens@iter)
May 12, 2018
“I have the right to access treatment and register with a GP practice,” says Healthwatch East Riding of Yorkshire, speaking on behalf of homeless people.
‘Fair System?’ reports on Healthwatch ERY’s own research into whether it is easy for people with no address and no identification to access NHS primary care services in East Yorkshire. A new ‘registration rights card’ has been introduced to empower rough sleepers to access health care, and to remind local GPs of the national guidelines.
Matthew Fawcett, Healthwatch East Riding of Yorkshire Manager, and Chris Mills, Community Outreach Officer, explain the research and outline the recommendations.
May 9, 2018
May 2017 is National Storytelling Month. HumberHelp and Emmaus Hull & East Riding have worked together with creative writer Michelle Dee to produce this short story. Huge thanks to the companions at The Orchard for their trust and openness in sharing aspects of their own lives, upon which this fictional story is based. Enjoy.
Johnny woke up on the floor of a broken lock-up, his cardboard sheets damp with morning. His mouth tastes like fags and stale booze. It’s another typical day in Johnny’s life. Only it isn’t, today he knows is his eighteenth, his mates had plied him with booze until early hours the night before. He shuddered remembering trying to dance on the table, trying to impress Steff the new barmaid. Rubbing his eyes, the right one felt tender to the touch, he remembered falling from the table and smacking his head. Had his mates left after that? Everything was hazy he couldn’t be sure.
Johnny checked his jacket pockets, two nicked stubbies in each one, he’ll have them later. In his jeans he found a good handful of baccy in a scrunched up pouch and a torn rizla pack. Had they really just gone off and left him there? He peered out from underneath the twisted garage door, the sky was grey and uninterested, he sat back down on the cardboard and cracked open a bottle. ‘Happy Bloody Birthday,’ he said out loud, letting the lager pour freely down his throat.
After half an hour of sitting there he’s made a decision. Carefully folding up the baccy, he stands up dizzy from the nicotine and beer rush and sets out for his parents’ house. Surely they’d want to see him on his birthday, his mum at least, wouldn’t they? It wasn’t like last time, he wasn’t asking for anything, well maybe a bit of breakfast, watch the telly in the warm, see Suze if she was in. Susie was his little sister, he didn’t regret much about leaving home, but he missed his little sister. He felt protective over her, in case his bastard father started on her like he’d done on him. Thinking about his dad made Johnny all tense, his head started pumping, his mind racing. He couldn’t think straight and nearly walked into some fella pushing a barrow of veg on Market Street. ‘Wotchit son!’
‘Sod off,’ came the reply from Johnny without thinking. He thought about calling out, telling the bloke he didn’t mean it, but when he looked back the guy had disappeared around the back of the stalls. Johnny trudged wearily towards what had been his home on Finkle Street, up until six months ago. Finkle means twist or bend in Saxon or Viking, Johnny remembered learning that in school, pretty much all he did learn though.
‘Well, well, look what the sea’s dragged up, bin fighting have yer?’ Johnny was stood at the back door, his mum had seen him just as he was about to knock, she looked tired her hair was untidy in a sort of bundle on top of her head. There was washing hanging up, filling the kitchen with a flowery clean smell which suddenly made him aware of his own stink. He hadn’t managed a bath for a week – catching sight of his reflection, he imagined what his mum was picturing. He stood in clothes from the Sally Ally, too big for him, falling off him, torn and ripped and stained with crud, from knocking about the streets, his eye was bruised for sure and his hair hadn’t seen a brush for ages.
‘Come in then, if you’re coming in?’ his mum said cautiously. This wasn’t the best start, but it would do. ‘Your dad’s gone out with Ted to fix the motor on that bleeding bike again.’ Johnny breathed heavily, this meant he would be out for at least a few hours, maybe he and his mum could talk for a bit, spend some time. ‘Go and get cleaned up, I’ll do you a breakfast, bet you haven’t eaten anything have you. There’s a card from your auntie Mo and Suze is up and about somewhere, she was asking after you again last night.’ They’d remembered, they’d remembered it was his birthday. He felt happy and sad at the same time, but managing a weak smile he headed off up the stairs.
A few hours later Johnny was sat in the front room of his family home. He felt a lot better washed, clean, with a cooked breakfast inside him: bacon, eggs and his favourite, hash browns dipped in barbecue sauce. The clock read twenty to eleven. ‘Here I got you these, they should fit,’ said his Mum handing him a shiny silver parcel. Inside were a brand new pair of jeans and two tee-shirts from the market. Suze had given him a big hug and an iPod, ready loaded with his favourite hip hop artists. Johnny grinned as he stood looking at himself in the hall mirror in his new clobber. Behind him the back door banged open. He spun round and saw his father stood in the doorway in his overalls, hands black from grease and motor oil.
‘Thought you might turn up,’ his Dad said, pointing a grubby finger at Johnny.
‘I thought maybe I could… well sorta, mebbe…’ Johnny struggled to find the words, he just couldn’t talk to his dad anymore.
‘Yer mam’s been spoiling you again as she?’ he demanded staring at Johnny’s new clothes. ’Don’t know why she bothers, you don’t care about us do you, do you?’ his dad said, jabbing his dirty oily finger on the new top. He moved towards Johnny feigning a punch, Johnny dodged the blow but knocked a bowl off the side, sending it crashing to the floor. ’Now look what you done you little prick,’ grinning at his son nastily.
‘Can’t you just leave him alone Frank, just for one day?’ his mum whispered.
‘If you bloody well think it’s alright for him to come waltzing in here whenever he feels like it, well I don’t know what. It’s my bloody house June, my bloody house and my rules: my rules June,’ grabbing her by the wrist and twisting it. Johnny felt his heart racing, this was exactly why he’d left in the first place. He stepped between his parents and pushed his father as hard as he could, he went flying backwards slamming into the fridge. Johnny saw the first fist coming and ducked low, just as his father’s boot connected with his head. Reeling from the impact, Johnny looked wildly at his mum, then at his Dad, then ran. He ran down the street, then the next street and the next, across the main road without looking, out on to the bypass, before collapsing in a heap on the grass verge. He began punching the ground repeatedly, shouting and yelling at the world.
The noise of the van engine drowned out any chance of interrogation. Johnny had hung about for an hour by the side of the road trying to thumb a lift out of town. He didn’t know where, he didn’t care, he just knew he needed to get out. Some old bloke had picked him up, said he was going North. That would do for a start. The guy’s name was Tommy and he just drove throughout the day, tapping out rhythms with his his fingers on the steering wheel. Early evening Tommy had explained that he wasn’t driving all night, that he was going to pull in at a pub he knew, where the landlady had rooms. Johnny could probably get one for nothing, Tommy had said, if he pulled his weight for a few hours in the cellar, shifting stock and that. Johnny had helped out a bit, and been rewarded for his efforts with a pint and a plate of pub grub. Turned out Tommy was a musician and he actually had a gig that night at this place. His name was written in large letters on a chalkboard ‘Tommy Knight and the Stealers’ ‘Cos we steal every lasses heart who comes to see us,’ Tommy had told him, his eyes full of mischief.
The music was alright, sort of loud rock music with violins in it, people had danced and when he’d explained it was his birthday, a few locals bought him a bunch of drinks. Tommy had wished him a happy birthday from the stage and everyone in the room had cheered and applauded. Later with the beer loosening his lips, he let slip to Tommy what had gone on earlier. He just nodded and smoked another fag, blowing the smoke out of his nostrils in two long wispy streams. Feeling more confident he told him more stuff about what had gone on at home, how he’d come home to see his mum with a broken tooth and swollen face. ‘Frankie always did have a temper on him mind.’ Tommy said startling Johnny. ‘I’m not excusing him, nobody should hit anybody like, certainly not little June… she was a looker, couldn’t believe it when ya dad hooked up with her.’
‘You, know my dad?’ Johnny had finally managed.
‘Yup sure do, he played a mean trumpet your dad, could do with that sound in the Stealers.’ Over the next hour Johnny learned all about how his dad had played in Tommy’s first band called The Drivers, in his teens. They’d cut a demo and they’d been played on Radio 1 by some bloke called John Peel. ‘Gerrin’ on Peely’s show was better than a number one in the charts any day of the week.’ Tommy talked about the gig circuit, playing cities across the country, even playing in London a few times. It was all going great guns for them when Frank had left the band, after finding out he was going to be a father. ‘Reckon that was round about the time you came along Johnny.’
‘Uhuh hmm yeah.’ Johnny mumbled, his mind reeling with all this new information. His dad had left the group, bought a house and settled down with his mum.
‘He still there is he on Finkle?’
‘Yeah still there,’ Johnny said.
That night in a strange bed in a room above a pub hundreds of miles away from his hometown, Johnny thought about his dad. He’d given up his dream as a musician to support him, from what Tommy was saying they could have been really good, they’d had that radio guy playing them. It was early hours before Johnny finally fell asleep, a decision and an idea forming in his head.
Johnny Shaw woke up at the sound of the alarm clock, sitting up he heard the sound of the waves crashing against the sea front. He bounced out of bed, he had to be up and out quick, he was Team Leader that day at the homeless project. He showered, dressed quickly, grabbed his mail from the door. He recognised his mum and his sister’s handwriting on two of the envelopes, birthday cards to be sure. Johnny would be twenty-one today but celebrating could wait, celebrating could come later. Susie was coming up to visit, he couldn’t wait to show her around the quiet little town he now called home, to introduce her to his work colleagues, and show her what he had made of himself. It would be a great weekend.
After that night in the pub with Tommy, he’d hung about with the band, then at the end of the week on the return trip with Tommy, Johnny had checked in to a homeless shelter himself and enrolled in college, choosing to study music. Turned out he had a knack for writing lyrics. Eventually he found himself doing workshops with young adults like himself, who were in danger of falling through the cracks. He decided that he’d make his parents proud of him, proud of his achievements. It wasn’t easy, but he’d worked hard and now was beginning to reap the rewards. The relationship with his dad hadn’t improved all that much, they could sit in the same room without going for each other now, which was a vast improvement. Susie was pretty certain that he didn’t hurt their mum anymore. Johnny knew he couldn’t control his parents relationship, Johnny couldn’t make everything rosy in the family, but he could try and change his life for the better. It was a typical day in Johnny’s life as headed out to make music, write lyrics and tell stories, to a bunch of noisy teenagers.
April 8, 2018
Archived podcasts from the older website are in the playlist below. Future podcasts will be published as individual posts – searchable using the PODCASTS category link.
February 23, 2018
“They make it easy to be able to say we can achieve x, y, and z.”
Richard McKinnon, CEO Humbercare.
The homelessness sector in Hull is currently a volatile place to work, at least – it is for some. There is a small, but loud, movement of people expressing their distrust of local government commissioned services and established voluntary sector organisations. Social media is alive with keyboard activism, grabbed photos are shared as undisputed fact, vitriol accompanies video. Worryingly, the very people that need help – our city’s rough sleepers, sofa surfers, and those at acute risk of homelessness – are in danger of being influenced by this clamour, perhaps even avoiding services that could actually positively transform their lives.
Despite this, remarkable outcomes are being achieved by those commissioned to deliver support.
Richard McKinnon is CEO of Humbercare, where he has worked for 19 years. His involvement within the homelessness sector in Hull started much earlier. At 20 years of age, in his first job within the sector, he was a bank worker for the English Churches Housing Group. Before joining Humbercare he also spent time in employment with other homelessness and social housing organisations. At Stoneham Housing Association he worked with offenders being released from prison. For HullHARP he helped to deliver services at Dock House. He was part of the team that set up the Roper Street night shelter many years ago. Throughout his career in the sector he’s also encouraged partnership working, and has served on many Boards and advisory panels.
I asked Richard what originally motivated him to pursue a career in this sector:
“I’ve always had an understanding of it. My parents were involved in it, so I grew up seeing this sector – much wider than just homelessness though, it included mental health. I developed a passion for the sector. Doing ‘bank’ work I saw much more of it. Very quickly I wanted to be involved in trying to make a change in the city, in terms of facilities and services offered to people.”
Homelessness has changed a lot over the last few decades. Right to Buy has decreased council housing provision. House prices have risen dramatically, making even ‘affordable housing’ unattainable for some. More and more people are having to rent in the precarious ‘Private Rental Sector’. Rough sleeping has more than tripled in the city in the last decade alone.
Richard told me what the homelessness sector looked like at the start of his career. “It was”, he said:
“a very different picture to what it is now. As we’ve moved forward we’ve seen individuals’ complexities get worse. Back then it was traditional street drinkers if you like. The idea of anybody using a drug or sticking a needle in their arm, even amongst the homeless community, was frowned upon.“When we opened Roper Street, that must be over 20 years ago, it was just a building that was open-floored, with mattresses on the floor. People used to turn up, and it was soup and sandwiches, head down, and a breakfast in the morning before they went off. That was purely donation funded, all done on a voluntary fundraising basis to be able to run that service. We were regularly getting 20 to 25 people through the doors each night, presenting as street homeless.”
He went on to explain how homelessness now differs:
“The complexities that individuals face themselves are much more demanding. The ease by which people can fall into homelessness and other associated issues seems to be easier than it was then – and much more severe. There is a lack of services in Hull, not just bed spaces but those services that wrap around and support people. The way funding for organisations like this is distributed now has made it much more of a competitive environment. There will be those that criticise organisations like Humbercare as just being businesses, but that’s the way in which the money is available – to be able to deliver these services.”
The funding of homelessness service provision, especially in the voluntary sector, is a very contentious issue for many. A common argument posed by those clamorous voices on social media is that no organisation or group, however constituted, should be seen to ‘profit’ from others’ misfortune and disadvantage. How services can become sustainable for their beneficiaries, and attract well qualified and experienced staff to generate the required outcomes, is often overlooked by such voices.
I asked Richard to respond to this argument that there is a lot of money to be made in the homelessness sector, and that organisations such as Humbercare are profiteering from those in homelessness, poverty, and disadvantage:
“People will have their views about how organisations should be run. There will be people that say companies shouldn’t receive funding for the work they do. But sadly, for us to be able to supply housing to people, it comes at a cost. We don’t own our housing stock, we have to lease our housing stock, so we have to pay for that. Then, to be able to provide support to people living in those properties, again it has to be paid for. What I can say is that all the services that Humbercare provide are commissioned from whichever local authority we’re working in, or whichever organisation we’re working with. If we are delivering a service, that’s been by way of a successful competitive tender process. So we have to demonstrate that we are of good value, that we give value for money, that we have robust management systems in place, that we’re able to keep people safe, to provide decent outcomes and make sure that people get the best that they can. We are accountable and we have to answer to the people that give the funding.”
I pressed Richard for further clarity about the level of scrutiny Humbercare receives from its funders and stakeholders. He replied:
“In the last year alone Humbercare has had its services inspected by the Care Quality Commission – that is by no means an easy process. They come in and spend a huge amount of time going through the organisation, reading page by page case files, right the way through to how staff are employed, how we treat staff, how we run the organisation, how we keep individuals safe and how we treat them when they’re receiving our services. As part of that process we were considered to be good across all key lines of enquiry, that in itself speaks volumes. We have also had our Investors in People inspection and award, there have been no issues and the report is complimentary of the organisation. We just had a full audit inspection of all our services commissioned by Hull City Council in the last year, every single service has been inspected in detail, every report that has come back has been complimentary.”
I can attest to this. The certificates of compliance and evaluation from various scrutinising panels are displayed for all to see in the reception at Humbercare’s Head Office.
The organisation that McKinnon leads is not a small undertaking. In the last year of financial reporting, he tells me, the business has turned over approximately £5,000,000. The charitable organisation employs 165 people, works across 4 local authority areas, and enjoys the support of around 100 active volunteers too. Humbercare delivers 18 related services, serving about 800 people at any one time. Richard adds:
“We don’t just work in Hull, we don’t just run a hostel, we run many different services – some very complex, for very complex and vulnerable people.”
It is the complexity of the service delivery, and the complexity of the people it serves, that sometimes results in incidents that attract negative comment and attention online.
I asked Richard if this negativity was having an impact upon staff morale, and the ability of the organisation to continue to deliver its outcomes for beneficiaries and funders alike. He replied:
“I am accountable to our Board of Trustees, and as an organisation we are accountable to those that provide our funding. The staff have been vocal about it. They are quite passionate about what is being said, and they want or need to respond to some of these comments. But what we are more focussed on is delivering our services. Every service that Humbercare delivers is the result of a competitive tender process. It’s very structured, it’s very clear, it’s very transparent from whomever gives that contract. The ability to be able to win contracts in that way is done on the back of the experience, the professionalism, and the passion of the people who work for Humbercare. They make it easy to be able to say we can achieve x, y, and z.”
[Copyright Jerome Whittingham, 2018]
December 9, 2017
By Mel Hewitt, December 2017.
December has shown up again, the same time as it usually does – and bringing all things Christmas along with it. It gets its timing right each year as shoppers scurry in the cold, determined to exchange their monthly incomings into material outgoings that they then wrap up and give to their nearest and dearest – a sure token of their affection and adoration. We only have to take our blinkers off for a minute, though, and in-between the addictively twinkly shop windows of our high streets we see the evidence of our cities being polarised into ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. Dirty blankets, pots for change, agendas that have no space for anything but nourishment, warmth and the occasional “Can you spare some change please, love?” So for what it’s worth, reader, this Christmas, can I gift you a tale of Billy?
Billy used to be homeless. He knows what it is to be a ‘have-not’ in a world addicted to Advent. He has slept on the streets, in hostels and in a prison cell. I am sure he is well-versed in his rattle for change and is highly skilled in catching the eye of a stranger, hurtling past, arms as full as sleighs will be. He also has academic qualifications in mechanics, the gift of the gab, a way of putting people at ease, and now a home at The Orchard – Hull’s Emmaus community. For those of you who don’t know what an Emmaus community is (or indeed that Hull had one) don’t worry – you’re in good company. Let’s start with the internet, then I’ll give you the feels.
Emmaus, according to my pal Wiki, is “an international solidarity movement founded in Paris in 1949 by the Catholic priest Abbe Pierre to combat poverty and homelessness”. His picture hangs proudly in the Emmaus superstore on Lockwood Street where many of the companions live, work and participate in this thing we’re all collectively winging called life. Thirty companions can live and work there at any one time. Emmaus provides a home, a job, a place to socialise, learning and much more than that. It invests in people’s identities and provides them with not only physical safety inside its roof and walls, but an environment fit for purpose with its wraparound care. Billy put it much more eloquently than I ever could with his definition simply being “Freedom”. The superstore is vast, with every conceivable item of donated furniture on display; all cleaned, some upcycled and ready to find a new home. I eyed up a chair that would have sat perfectly in my hallway if only I knew the size of the space to fill. It could wait. I knew I’d be coming back.
Billy tells me the importance of the daily morning meetings, sorting what needs sorting, airing views that need sharing and allocating a key holder for when everyone else goes to their home and the companions are left to manage themselves. A brilliant way for companions to be heard and participate is having their own daily planning meeting. Integration and self-empowerment are key themes that seem to underpin everything that goes on here. I could almost feel it. The companions manage themselves domestically and do this successfully. Rotas line one noticeboard – kitchen, cleaning, laundry – and everyone does their bit to keep the wheel turning.
Next I met their dog – because why shouldn’t a ‘family’ and ‘community’ have a pet? These folk seem to think outside the box with every available opportunity and make a success out of it. For gardeners there is an allotment and a decent whack of green space. For those who aren’t gardeners, I have a feeling they may have a go. More than once I heard that once someone starts tinkering about with something at The Orchard, others quickly follow suit, constantly belting out those values of involvement, acceptance and skill-sharing. I saw it in action wherever I walked. Someone outside planing wood attracts another companion without realising it, and then there are two. Someone making Christmas trees for the new shop on Whitefriargate is soon joined by another face; a companion working the till for the first time is supported by another. Old skills are rebirthed, new skills are embraced and formal qualifications are achieved. I was quickly becoming The Orchard’s biggest fan.
We walked through to the companions’ entrance and Billy told me of his fears when he had first arrived and sat in the armchair in the lobby. Was it a cult? He soon found out it wasn’t. Would it be like prison? Another qualm quickly quashed. Interestingly, Billy used to live in Hull as a child but held little memories of it until he returned. When he did he surprised himself by knowing how to get around on autopilot because “most things haven’t changed – the streets remained the same”.
He very kindly offered to show me his room. Hands up if you would spontaneously parade the privacy of your bedroom to a stranger? Me neither. There would be swift kicks towards my space under the bed, doors pushed to and a prayer said asking for leniency from the laundry fairies. It was spacious, bright and airy with ensuite facilities – not dissimilar to student halls accommodation; in fact, the plans were to go one better than halls and give each companion more metric space. The furniture ‘basics’ are provided but the rest, the things that made his space his own, he bought himself. This is made more achievable by the policy that allows companions 50% off items from the superstore. Billy shared with me tales of his possessions including a New York skyline print and his pride-of-place tropical fish tank. “It was meant to be a fiver but I got it for £2.50,” he beamed. I surely beamed back as I thought, “What a fine Hullism – we always brag about our bargains!”
Two things really stood out to my wandering eyes. Firstly, I spied on top of his wardrobe a pile of criminology textbooks. He was taking some steps to alter his own path while still having a tag in situ – a most uplifting juxtaposition, showing that this ‘have-not’ had decided it was time he ‘had’. Secondly, he had previously told me that his room was round the front. Now, he pointed to his curtains as he told me that he always sleeps with them open. A stargazer by default is what I’d instinctively presumed, but poetic instincts can be silenced as romantic and clichéd. “It’s because I’m nosy. I like to know what’s going on.” From one curtain-twitcher to another – this not only was the perfect answer, but also highlighted yet again that if we strip away our labels and limitations, we are all basically the same. I loved the fact that there was also a guest room for companions’ friends and family to visit. Why shouldn’t they be afforded the right to rebuild kinship and social ties?
We went down to the Apple Tree Café where I shook Billy’s hand firmly and thanked him for taking time out of his busy working day to satisfy my curiosity. Much has been expressed recently in the national and local media about the issue of rough-sleeping and homelessness in Hull, some of it ill-informed, much of it untrue and a lot of it discriminatory. I really wanted to find out more about the Rough Sleeper Outreach Support Team, which is another side to the work done at The Orchard. Unfortunately after an incredibly busy night, when staff returned to base, their time was hijacked by having to provide a media response. The media wanted to know what this team of people were doing to solve the problem of rough sleepers in Hull. The irony of this astounded me. They were actually stopped doing their invaluable work, gaining trust with rough sleepers, finding well-thought-out solutions and working flat-out, to answer the question, “How are you solving this?” It was obvious as an outsider that they were doing every possible thing they could and doing it superbly.
A cuppa at the Apple Tree Café ended my visit. I had actually heard more about the café than anything else before I came on this journey. I know people who go out of their way to eat, greet and socialise there and I completely understood why now. The whole place has a vibe that is drenched in positive energy. People aren’t judged or labelled, it hollers equality, empowerment and encouragement so loudly it’s hard not to hear it. The Orchard’s doors are wide open and welcoming. Yes, I like happy endings and positivity and I invariably try to draw them into my peripheral vision wherever I am. The Orchard gave me this without having to go looking too hard at all. Just to top off what was a fantastic morning, someone began playing a beautiful melody on the piano. When I asked who he was, I heard he was a neighbour who often pops by. How perfect – social integration at its finest happening in front of me.
So, this Christmas I will not be sending cards to my nearest, dearest and those in-between; I shall donate what I would have spent to Emmaus Hull. It is in very good hands with them. I wish them nothing but new beginnings, happy endings and a peaceful family Christmas. And Billy? I wish him everything he wishes for himself.
December 21, 2016
A cold evening, but not freezing, cloudy but dry, I’d arranged to meet the Rough Sleeper Outreach team in Hull city centre. I arrived 20 minutes early. On the car park nearby the regular Tuesday night ‘soup kitchen’ had started to gather, and I stood chatting to the first two people to turn up.
These two likeable and welcoming chaps have been attending this kitchen regularly for many months, unable to afford heating and much food in their own homes. One tells me he’s recently been sanctioned for not attending a benefits appointment, now with no money at all for a while he’s having to scavenge and beg like a stray animal.
The flow of our conversation is halted as the younger of the two suddenly points across the road, ‘God, look, there’s a man over there collapsed on the pavement’.
We head straight over. A young girl and her male friend are already calling an ambulance. The collapsed man, maybe in his thirties, lies curled up on the pavement, static, barely breathing, and unresponsive to our shouting. The ambulance arrives in no time at all. As I pull back to allow the ambulance crew to take over, the Outreach team’s car pulls into the car park, and out get Warren, Kieran, and Luke. They’re straight to work.
I stand back, watching from a short distance. Paramedics carry out their initial procedures, as the Outreach team also stand by. Within a couple of minutes the man is being helped to his feet, faltering. Two of the Outreach team steady him, even hold him upright, whilst the third team member is handed a couple of blankets from the ambulance. The paramedics’ input to this situation is completed, the ambulance doors close and it departs. That’s perhaps not the outcome I was expecting.
The man is known to the Outreach team. They know his name, they know where he’s currently rough sleeping, they know of his history of drug use, and they also know that this man is allegedly currently banned from Hull’s homeless shelters. This knowledge and understanding is vital. Their initial plan now is to get the man back to his sleeping place, providing him with an additional sleeping bag, and keeping their eye on him for as long as needed.
Two of the team struggle to walk the man along the pavement, whilst the third heads off to get a sleeping bag. The man really cannot walk, he can barely stand, he is utterly unable to move without help. Within minutes he is once again collapsed on the ground, this time propped up by the Outreach team. They call to him by name, he doesn’t acknowledge them, but they continue to reassure. Another few minutes pass. The man is a human wreckage, badly damaged and almost destroyed – and yes, it angers me to see this. His breathing is now laboured and erratic, there’s no hope at all that this man will get back to his resting place. The team immediately make the right decision to call for another ambulance.
Following instructions over the phone, and using their First Aid training, the Outreach Team lie the man down on his back to ease his ability to breathe, the man splutters and gasps a breathe as they do so. They monitor the man’s condition, counting his breathes to the telephone operator as they wait for the ambulance to arrive. Whilst not a daily occurrence for the team, they remain calm, following instructions and procedures. The second ambulance also arrives quickly.
Once again the paramedics assess the situation. The Outreach Team provide the paramedics with the man’s name and some detail of his history. This time the man is stretchered, lifted into the ambulance, and taken away to A&E.
The whole incident, including both ambulances, has lasted about half an hour. I thank the Outreach Team for their incredible work, and leave them to the rest of their shift. I have no doubt at all that without being found, and without the care and determination of the Outreach Team, that man may have died of hyperthermia or asphyxia during the night. Even now, does he have a long future?
During this ’12 Days of Homelessness in Hull’ campaign we’re showcasing some great examples of the work being done in Hull to improve chaotic lives, and Emmaus’ Outreach Team – funded by Hull City Council – is certainly among the best and most innovative examples we’re sharing with you. There’s still much that outrages me though.
I’m angry that this man should get himself in such a state. This anger may surprise you, but like others working in this sector I despise substance misuse and its effect upon people and communities. I will not, however, write this man off as ‘just another worthless addict’, as some would do. This man has a soul, a history, relatives. He’s more likely to be the symptom of some horror, than the cause of it. No-one is without hope. I’ve seen other addicted people turn themselves around, with the right support.
I’m angry that we have emergency services stretched beyond acceptable limits, seemingly having to make impossible choices as to who receives expensive NHS care. I acknowledge I’m not a trained paramedic, I’m a journalist reflecting upon what I witnessed, but I don’t understand the decision made by the first ambulance crew. How ill did this man need to be?
I’m angry too that we have welfare and care systems in place that are too regularly exercising sanctions and punishment, creating barriers to the support some people so desperately need. The ‘austerity project’ and its ever-decreasing resourcing of vital services is somewhat to blame for this punitive culture.
Thankfully, as I witnessed with the Outreach Team, some are responding to these issues with innovation.
Jerome – Editor.
December 9, 2016
“Everyone knows me here,” he chatted, Newcastle thick in his accent though he’d left it ten years past.
He reached to kiss the hand of the lass who’d come to ask what they needed for the immediate.
She’d been bitten by the same systems that kept them out here.
Couldn’t bring much other than some coffee and some company.
“You’re so good, coming by here each day…
Look, long-tails” he pointed to the rat not far away, ‘they’re getting brave’.
She could see his Celtic hand curled uneven like the stray hair from under his beanie,
And not for the first time she wondered how his smile could stay that warm
When all his seams ran so ragged they had torn.
Her walking stick ticked by her heels as she followed the streets where he sleeps home.
He’d weathered this city and its criticisms,
Seen kids more than half his age struggle with rent to pay,
Made shelters of empty doorways, then always morning came and he was turned away.
Passing empty houses, more than she could count, swearing out loud, feeling fettered by everything
She remembered what he’d said:
“It’s not over yet.”
© 2016 Alyx Tamminen
Alyx Tamminen is a spoken word crossover performance poet, her verse characterised by its edgy and street tone.
December 9, 2016
Your feet, they pass;
some slow, most fast,
in rain, they splash,
in sun, they dash.
I’m here, a face;
this doorway, a space,
a residence, my place.
Your legs, blurred haste.
You have the world
at your feet.
© 2016 Louise Beech.
Author of How to be Brave (2015) The Mountain in my Shoe (2016) and Maria in the Moon (2017).
December 9, 2016
I’ve never really had a home
just a series of rooms I’ve stayed in,
rooms in which thoughts have played in
rooms in which dreams have decayed in
rooms where the hours have passed
rooms where the spells have been cast
rooms where I’ve lost my mind
rooms where I’ve been left behind
rooms where I’ve toasted the passing of the day
rooms where my empty head can lay
rooms in which I’ve made love
rooms in which bags are shoved
rooms with locked doors
rooms with dirty floors
rooms where spirits have been crushed
rooms where limits have been pushed
rooms where there’s something missing
rooms where there’s no pot to piss in
rooms where I’ve shivered in the cold
rooms in which my story will be told.
We are as transitory as furniture –
occupy a space
until we are replaced
by something else;
thrown onto the street like
or a broken shelf.
© 2008 Joe Hakim
Joe Hakim writes stuff, says stuff, knows nowt… author of ‘No Light Might Escape’, a gritty monologue that charts the turbulence of not having a home.