There are many reasons why I became homeless, but no one was surprised it happened. I’m just another care leaver who lost control of their life. Almost every person I lived with in children’s homes and foster placements has since experienced mental health problems, stints in prison, and battles with drug and alcohol addiction. What would make me so special that I could avoid the inevitable breakdown?
Quite an opening statement. Everyone who is brought up by the State breaks down.
The local housing advice service was no help. I was told that to be considered a priority need, I had to demonstrate that I was more vulnerable than my homeless counterparts. As one adviser put it: “I have to establish that you would be worse off than me, if I were homeless.” It may interest people that local councils are now running a misery contest for housing, a sort of X Factor for the destitute. Maybe my audition would have gone better if I’d had a few more missing teeth, and wet myself while singing Oom-Pah-Pah.
And then I befriended a resident of a residential charity for the homeless. He was far more helpful than the housing advisers, and managed to organise a place for me at the charity.
When I entered its walls, which were inside a converted factory, the place immediately struck me as having similarities with a Victorian workhouse. I was told by the “community leader” that I would receive basic subsistence: a room, food, clothing and a modest weekly allowance, in exchange for 40 hours’ labour.
Private charity helps him out. Bit of stability an address, food and in the warm. But he’s got to work for it.
Hmm, the bastards, eh?
These regulations not only strip homeless people of the right to a decent wage, but of all their other employment rights too. Because residents of such charities are not classed as employees, they cannot claim unfair dismissal or sick pay. Many people have lived and worked at the charity for up to 15 years, yet they can be sacked and evicted with no legal right to appeal.
I accept that residents, some of whom have suffered with long-term alcoholism and drug dependency, are far better off within the charity home’s walls than they would be on the streets or living alone. The environment is predominantly a positive one, where residents are well fed and safe, and are overseen by conscientious staff. The charity does give individuals the chance to participate in meaningful work and contribute to a community, sometimes for the first time in their lives. But none of this alters the fact that residents are forced by poverty to work for no pay.
So let’s insist that minimum wage must be paid shall we? That’s going to work well…..