I am writing this in response to Paul Minter’s letter about Homelessness in the Observer, Friday, January 12.
In his autobiographical poem about life in Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Primo Levi described a ‘man’. The title, ‘If This is a Man’ asks us to make up our mind about it.
He described ‘men’ and women who were being dehumanised. Our streets are not concentration camps, thank God. But homelessness incarcerates human beings in a downward spiral of poverty and despair. It is equally dehumanising.
Of course, the homeless community is not hidden from our view behind electrified, barbed-wire fences, preventing our closer scrutiny; we do not have to strain our necks or our imaginations to see individuals lying in doorways or sitting on the ground; we do not view them through the stark glare of a spotlight, fastened onto the top of a watch tower, at risk of a burst of bullets from a machine gun if we get too close.
No. No such excuses can be made for us.
Homelessness is reality. We see our fellow human beings at the end of themselves – literally – to the extent that the very pavement is all that sustains their existence. You can’t fall any lower.
We may, of course, choose to look away, or step over them as they lie in their soaking wet sleeping bags.
Or, perhaps, we will toss a pound or two into their lap, or even ‘take five’ and buy a cup of coffee and a Pot Noodle… and then, turn, and walk away, off home to ‘…safe…warm houses…hot food and friendly faces’.
Individual acts of kindness are truly wonderful, but on their own cannot resolve homelessness.
One solution is to put sufficiently more Government funds (see last week’s Observer) into the establishment of a viable shelter for the homeless in Bexhill. It would be a ‘one-off’ expenditure.
Currently most of the allocated funds are paid at ‘high cost’ for emergency accommodation to the private sector. Meanwhile, non-emergencies (single men and women) exist on the streets…
Thank God for the volunteers who go out; and there are many. But, God forbid we share the tragic experience of the people of Hastings, who despite their individual acts of wonderful kindness during the Christmas week, witnessed the deaths of three of their homeless people on their pavements.
May that not happen in Bexhill.
Chris and Sarah
Cornwall Road, Bexhill