This article, ‘Police seize possessions of rough sleepers in crackdown on homelessness‘, came my way via Twitter, which is the way all news reaches me these days. I do buy a weekend newspaper… ok, not a newspaper, it’s The Times, but I only buy it for the big crossword and I don’t read it. Well, maybe I skim the book reviews. Ironically, it had an article about guilty reading pleasures a few weeks back, which (a) seemed to be a list of what was on the average reading person’s bookshelf and (b) totally failed to include The Times itself in the list.
Anyway, I digress. The whole article I’ve linked to describes an appalling event, of course, but what I find compelling, alarming and nauseating in equal measure are two particular phrases used by the police, in some semi-articulate attempt at justification for their unjustifiable actions.
1. ‘Crackdown on homelessness’ – I think we can all agree that homelessness is a condition no civilised country supports. No one thinks it’s a good idea, least of all those who are spending cold, rainy nights dossing on a damp pile of cardboard. I don’t really care if they ended up there as a result of their own crack habit, or as a result of a series of disastrous life events. If say, the government were really to announce a crackdown, I would (with only a brief pause to wonder which benevolent alien race body-snatched the bastards), be warmly supportive at the flood of money making its way to any number of charities focused on getting homeless people into homes, and back into society. Doubtless, this would be accompanied by a raft of progressive, social equality led programmes, intended to minimize the possibility of individuals finding themselves reduced to homelessness in the future.
Except that, the phrase ‘crackdown on homelessness’ was actually used to mean ‘crackdown on homeless people’. A condition and a person are not the same thing, though, so that change of meaning is invidious. Rather than attempting to address a problem in any meaningful way, the police’s action was to steal people’s belongings and food. ‘Cos, you know, that’s a well thought out solution to a problem. ‘Bloody homeless people, I know what’ll get shot of ’em. Take their blankets and food away, then they’ll have to, er… um… mumble… rhubarb… mumble…’ I don’t think the officers in question stayed to the end of the briefing, presumably the bit where someone pointed out that the whole reason people are homeless is that they DON’T HAVE ANYWHERE TO GO, ASSHAT.
2. ‘…reduce the negative impact of rough sleepers.’ – Anything that improves the lot of rough sleepers should surely be a good thing. I can think of many small acts or objects that might help. Unfortunately, the thought of homeless people cluttering up an abandoned swimming pool is obviously too much for the gentle inhabitants of Ilford. So, the police were required to ‘assist in the removal of [ed. shurely ‘have it away on their toes with’?] tents and bedding from public spaces and other inappropriate locations…’. Is this because the site of people freezing on bare floors is somehow less offensive?
I also struggle to understand what might be considered appropriate locations. Public space is, by definition, space for use by the general public. Since homeless people, also by definition, don’t have any private space, they seem to me in greater need of the public space. Or is there some eligibility requirement I’m not aware of that has to be fulfilled before one is allowed to sleep rough in an abandoned building?