AN OPEN LETTER TO STEVE DOWNES, EDP.

3

by Eli Lambe 

No, Soup Kitchens are not making Norwich’s “Homelessness problem” worse. It might seem that way to you, if you’re used to brushing the vulnerable off and not having to see the reality of more and more people’s lives. The easy solution – and the one that your newspaper and the local police like to peddle – is to force rough sleepers and vulnerable people out to the fringes of the city, where they’re cut off from their community and support and, most importantly it seems, you don’t have to see them.

What makes you think that your walking past the Haymarket every so often qualifies you to write about the lives of the people in the queue?

You say that it should be left to the experts, that charities like Shelter should be left to deal with it. Since you trust their expertise on this, you might want to look at what Shelter has to say about the various causes of homelessness, and in particular pay attention to their definition of homelessness – which is much more expansive than your own.

What makes you think that your walking past the Haymarket every so often qualifies you to write about the lives of the people in the queue?

You might also be interested in Crisis’ response to your particular style of obnoxious critique. As you’ll see if you bother to read through Shelter’s factsheet, the services Shelter provides are advice based, focusing on securing accommodation, and do not cover providing hot meals or clothing, toiletries and community – three things that the various soup runs do provide. Add to this the bureaucracy and running costs involved in large charities and the amount of help they can provide on a day to day basis is limited at best.

You might take the same approach as Norwich City Council, which prioritises the voices of “religious groups” over non-religiously affiliated grassroots organisations with far more day to day contact with people in need. These grassroots soup kitchens ARE experts – a lot of the organisers have been doing it for years, they know the people who come there, some of them have been in the same situation in the past.

(27.02.18 – Twitter / “Busy soup kitchen tonight in Norwich… -1°c and plenty of snow and ice. This shouldn’t be necessary in 2018 but sadly lots of people relying on @kcpeoplespicnic for a hot meal. #beastfromtheast”)

You comment that “apparently [begging] is easier money than the employed alternative” from your own position as someone employed to write “opinion pieces” with no linked research and tweet about sports. The charities you respect so much (not enough to actually read what they have to say, apparently) point out several links between insecure, zero-hours contracts and homelessness, including showing how self-interested private landlords describe their reluctance to rent to people on zero-hours contracts – contracts which your own newspaper has linked to the decrease in both unemployment and wage growth in the area. With various companies departing Norwich, and such a rise in insecure “employment” options, it should be easily apparent that it’s not as simple a choice as you think it is. Especially when you factor in the links between poverty and mental illness, and housing pressure and mental illness.

The biggest difference between you and the people you’re dismissing is that you are lucky enough to have had those support structures in place.

You’ve written about mental illness before, about your own struggles with mental health. Your employer has even given you an award for it. You’ve written about how mental ill-health affects the way you interact with people and you’ve written about how vital it was to have friends and family, how vital it was for you to have a community of people who cared about you and broke through your isolation. The biggest difference between you and the people you’re dismissing is that you are lucky enough to have had those support structures in place. That’s one of the things that regular, central soup runs provide.

The kind of social exclusion your article creates and amplifies by arguing against centrally accessible grassroots support only exacerbates the problem – people come to the soup runs for more than just a hot meal, it’s a source of the community and support that many homeless and vulnerable people don’t have any other access to. You’ve seen above the links between poverty and mental illness, and the vulnerabilities involved in isolation and stigma. These aren’t things that occasional meetings with an “advice service” or temporary, insecure accommodation can provide. As with any large, regular gathering of people, it’s going to get loud, people fall out, joke around, listen to music because – and this is what your article seems to massively miss – they are people.

(Graffiti on telecom junction box, Haymarket, Norwich. Reads ‘Tory Oppression’ / Flickr. Ian Gallagher)

Writing in response your article, The People’s Picnic observed that: “Careless stereotyping like this not only cements stigmatisation, but paves the way for members of the public to literally step over homeless people in the street guilt-free and undoubtedly contributes to the fact that rough sleepers are regular targets for hate and abuse.”

 it’s going to get loud, people fall out, joke around, listen to music because – and this is what your article seems to massively miss – they are people.

That you decided your thoughts on this were more valuable and publication worthy than the thoughts and statements of the people actually out there helping, is shameful. That your editor let you publish this careless tripe with no sources cited, no fact-checking and no input is shameful. That you’d rather look down your nose at people in need and justify your lack of care is shameful. That you see people out there helping, and caring, and working together to alleviate suffering as a problem is shameful. That you see compassion as weakness is shameful.

And I am fucking proud that I live in a city where people come out and show up to provide the care and support they do. I am fucking proud that I live in a city where enough people give enough of a shit that there’s hot food available every night of the week. I am fucking proud to live in a city of soft touches, and fuck you if you’re not.

For anyone who isn’t quite as morally bankrupt as Steve Downes would like you to be, you can get involved in helping and supporting the soup runs by going to their Facebook Pages: The People’s Picnic, The Norwich Soup Movement, Anon Street Team – Norwich, FoodCycle Norwich.

Featured image via Rebecca Chipperfield / Change.org  (Save Our Soup Kitchen)


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3 thoughts on “AN OPEN LETTER TO STEVE DOWNES, EDP.

  1. I did read the original piece and my shackles rose and my blood boiled. It was shared on Facebook by a Norwich friend and my comment underneath was a stream of pure, anger filled venom at the often selfish society we have become, in general, and this odious little weasel, in particular. Thank goodness, however, that there are good people in your fine city and it is not left to the likes of Mr Downes to save it’s less fortunate citizens otherwise they would have little or no chance. Keep up the great work.

    Liked by 1 person

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