This one goes out to all those politicians who seem only newly acquainted with the notion that austerity is rotten and ridiculous, and that people are very sick of public sector cuts:
I’m posting here yet another story from a frontline homelessness office which will tell you something about hopelessly stretched housing resources in austerity. It will also tell you something about the farcical conversations that homeless people and housing officers must have during austerity – ie, at a time when all sense of proportion has left the building.
In the discussion reported below, a housing officer at First Choice Homes in Oldham (First Choice provides the homelessness service for Oldham Council) told the 67-year-old man called Paul who I was with that Paul was considered adequately housed because he had a crappy old caravan to live in on a site in Oldham. Take that.
Image: in the caravan
This conversation took place in the last week of April. A month or two before that, Paul had been offered sheltered accommodation, I think it was, but he was too concerned about the spectre of escalating service charges in sheltered accommodation to go with that. Nothing is easy in austerity. Every option has a sting in the tail and/or one on the horizon. The idea of service charges – in sheltered accommodation, or anywhere – scares the shit out of people generally. Nobody ever knows how big service charges will get. Certainly, nobody believes the sky will be the limit when it comes to service charges going up. The mere mention of service charges is enough to put people off further dialogue.
As we talked about sheltered accommodation, the officer agreed that service charges were a thing: “we pass that [court manager] charge onto the customer, because it’s the customers that are in need of that service…maintenance charges, we charge those to all our customers…. communal areas,” etc, etc.
That being the case, the caravan was it.
“The advice that you got… is that you were able to return to your caravan, so you’re not homeless… that’s why they’re not giving you the homeless priority,” the officer said to Paul. So, there we were – an older bloke with a heart condition being told that living in a caravan was acceptable. We knew that this line was ridiculous. The officer, to her credit, knew this line was ridiculous too, but there we were all the same, going down together. Again. God knows how many similar conversations I’ve witnessed in the last few years. Austerity has redefined our notions of “acceptable,” and “logical.” You hardly know what you’ll hear next.
Here’s another picture from the caravan:
And here’s an excerpt from the recording of the conversation we had with the officer (I’ll put the recording up as soon as I can – having some upload problems atm. UPDATE: solved my problem, so here’s the audio):
Officer: “…she [the homelessness officer] advised you to return to the caravan… are you still able to live in the caravan?…That’s why they’re not giving you the homeless priority. They’re not deeming you as homeless.”
Me: “So, he’d have to leave the caravan [to get help]… so really, it’s not very good, is it.”
Officer: “Even if he left the caravan, they’d say he’d made himself intentionally homeless by leaving. I know, I know…”
Me: “So, he’s not homeless because he’s got the caravan, but if he leaves the caravan, he’s intentionally homeless.”
This is why I know there isn’t a god.
There are a couple of points to make here.
The first is that the caravan was no place to live. It was tiny, filthy and just about too small to lie down in. Taking a shower, or even a visit to the latrine involved a small hike in all weathers to a shared ablutions block. Great.
The second point is that just up the road, by comparison, there are people who live very well. Central Manchester was and is bursting with flashy, new-build apartments and redevelopments. There is absolutely no sense of proportion in this picture as a result. This is the concept I want to try and get across to our Tory austerity newbies. You can stand in a housing office with an elderly bloke who has a heart condition and listen as he is told that living in a caravan is fine, and that others in similar circumstances are told the same thing. Then, on your way home across the city, you can meander past costly high-rise apartments and building developments. This is inequality, you know. Inequality is austerity’s real achievement. You can, if you want, actually watch it unfold before your eyes over a tram ride from Oldham to Manchester. I know this, because I regularly make this journey from the ridiculous to the sublime.
Back to the ridiculous. You’ll note from the recording above that the officer implied if Paul couldn’t, or didn’t, live in the caravan, he would be entitled to more help. However, if he stopped living in the caravan without good reason – if he just left the caravan, because he couldn’t stand it any more – he would make himself intentionally homeless. If that happened, he would not be entitled to any homelessness help at all.
“Even if he left the caravan, they would say that he had made himself intentionally homeless by leaving. I know, I know…”
“So, he’s not homeless, because he’s got the caravan, but if he leaves the caravan, then he’ll be intentionally homeless,” I said.
Austerity, my friends. It makes less of us all. So glad to know our, erm, “leadership” is finally cottoning on.