Homeless man, Jay Blue, who had his personal property seized by the council and police. Image: Jonathan Myers/WalesOnline)
Council officers cleared an ‘encampment of tents’ in Cardiff city centre on Wednesday after giving homeless people living there just 24 hours to leave.
I wonder where they imagined homeless people would go?
Police officers supervised the evictions and at one point held a homeless man back as he remonstrated with officials and demanded the return of his possessions. He was stunned when his worldly possessions disappeared onto the back of a truck.
As the camp was cleared and property seized, the homeless man told council staff: “You have no right to throw my stuff away, this is what keeps me alive.”
He added: “You’re pushing me in a doorway and I’m not going in a doorway” before desperately grabbing onto the truck as it tried to drive away. He was subsequently ‘spoken to’ by police officers.
“I will die before I give up this cause – people shouldn’t be living in tents,” he said.
He had desperately to recover his belongings. Tents and personal items from the site were loaded onto the back of a truck before being driven away from the encampment in parkland off Museum Place, Cardiff.
When the police and council left only one tent had remained in the area.
The 38-year-old man who had tried to reclaim his belongings, calls himself Jay Blue. He said he was making a stand to give homeless people the right help that will take him to City Hall or the Senedd if necessary.
He said: “They took my world – everything I owned apart from a couple of sleeping bags.
“I was happily sleeping last night but where am I going to sleep tonight? Probably sleeping in a doorway or pushed into a situation I don’t want to be in.
“It’s not getting easier, my situation. It’s just getting worse.
“I was in the city centre for three months hiding behind a big shop. There wasn’t a problem when I was there. When they moved me on there was nowhere I could really go.”
Jay said it was the seventh time he’d had his tent taken off him since he became homeless last November after leaving prison.
Cardiff council said it could not return the tent because it contained “needles, broken glass, and human waste”.
Jay, who said he had been kept alive on the goodwill of strangers or charitable groups to get by, said that he’s had difficulty accessing benefits, and that he was willing to work for money and had even been litter-picking in the city when he can’t sleep.
He is calling for homeless people to be given their own safe accommodation rather than having to go into hostels, as he claims they are unsafe due to the prevalence of drugs.
The council said last week that they removed the ‘tent village’ from Museum Avenue because it had concerns about ‘antisocial behaviour and health and safety’ and ‘some people in the tents had refused to engage with their help.’
But some of the tent occupiers returned shortly afterwards which meant the council and police visited the area again on Wednesday after giving them just 24 hours to leave.
“I’m making a stand,” Jay said. “But every time I got somewhere or got some recognition they just crushed me back down.
“You’re pushing people in doorways so people can buy more coffees for the homeless in town. I want to sit in the park out of the way of everyone. But because I’m behind such a public building that gets sightseers driving past it all day I’m causing a problem.”
“Well I’ll be a problem for the rest of your life because I will be outside this police station saying this until you help people like me.”
Cardiff council claim there is no need for homeless people to sleep in tents as there is ‘more than enough emergency accommodation available.’
The council and homeless charities such as Huggard have previously insisted their services are ‘safe’ and people ‘could be at serious risk if they sleep out in tents.’
However, nothing has been done to address the longstanding systemic exclusion of single homeless people with complex needs. Policymakers and wider society are preoccupied with using social security policy as a means to punish those pushed into poverty, because of what they deem ‘irresponsible’ behaviour, rather than focussing on providing services to adequately meet the basic needs of marginalised people. Furthermore, marginalised groups have become more vulnerable precisely because of government policies that have led to growing inequality and people being plunged into absolute poverty.
When the council began removing tents in the city in February it insisted it was not removing occupied tents and only getting rid of those that had been abandoned.
One Tory councillor who called on Cardiff council to ‘tear down’ homeless tents has attacked Twitter critics as ‘virtue signallers’ who ‘don’t represent public opinion.’
Councillor Kathryn Kelloway is standing by her Tweet which called on council leader Huw Thomas to “tear down these tents” in Queen Street. She’s said there is “no good reason for there to be tents” when Cardiff has enough emergency overnight accommodation for rough sleepers, and said allowing tents to be erected in the city centre “sends out the wrong message”.
Kelloway, who represents the Cyncoed area of Cardiff, has also said Twitter is “disproportionately used by political activists who are happy to misrepresent the views of others in order to signal their virtue and justify their hatred of opponents.”
Welsh Conservatives have distanced themselves from councillor Kelloway’s comments, saying they “in no way reflect the views of the Welsh Conservatives”.
The Tweet, which sparked a justifiable backlash with over 1,900 replies, says: “Cllr Thomas, if you seek safety in our city centre, if you seek prosperity for local businesses, if you seek a better image for Cardiff. Cllr Thomas come to Queen Street.
“Cllr Thomas, tear down these tents.” (See Homeless tents row Tory attacks Twitter critics as ‘virtue signallers’)
Kelloway was suspended from Cardiff’s Conservative Group just hours after disgracefully urging council leader Huw Thomas to take action over tents on Queen Street. Responding to Kelloway, Cardiff council’s Labour leader Huw Thomas described her comments as “awfully judged”.
He said: “Of course no one wants tents in our city centre, but we have to act sensitively, and support people into accommodation with help for their underlying needs. Small wonder homelessness is soaring under this Tory Government, if ‘tearing down tents’ is their mindset.”
The ‘Parish pauper’ mentality
The council say that outreach workers were able to ‘engage’ with another man on the site that was disbanded, and are helping him ‘reconnect with his home town’.
This euphemism means that the workers are sending the person back to his home town, rather like the Parish paupers who were pushed on from one place to the next to cut costs, under the Elizabethan Poor Act of 1697. The Act is probably best remembered for its expansion of the requirement that welfare recipients be marked to indicate their status, in this case by wearing a prominent badge on their right shoulder. These badges would contain the first letter of the parish name, followed by the letter “P” (pauper). The penalty to paupers who did not wear badges was whipping and imprisonment, and overseers providing relief to unbadged paupers were fined 20 shillings.
Part of the system involved the determination of what parish to which a recipient belonged, and was thereby responsible to provide relief to that recipient. Under the earlier Poor Relief Act 1662, also known as the Settlement Act, a parish could banish those poor unable to rent lodgings of at least £10 per year within forty days of their arrival in the parish. Those banished this way would be sent back to their parish of birth, or where they had resided in the prior three years.
But moving people on doesn’t address the serious and often life-threatening problems faced by the growing number of people who are homeless.
Call me a ‘virtue signaller’ if you like, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the current system of homelessness support routinely fails to meet the most basic needs of many highly vulnerable homeless individuals, with many councils and the public preferring instead to simply move the evidence of a catastrophically failing system elsewhere, in the hope that it will somehow become invisible.
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