Theresa May’s Put Soldiers On the Streets, But What They Really Need Is A Roof
I love being outdoors. I’m a bit of a fresh air fiend, to be honest and even when I’m forced to be in – like today, writing this because unfortunately my PC doesn’t like the elements as much as I do. So I’m indoors and it’s raining but I’ve still got the windows open to give me that connection with outdoors, with nature.
For me, there’s something almost mystical and spiritual (I’m not very religious, so my connection with nature is about as far as I get to divinity) about outside; being at one with the elements and enjoying a cool, summer breeze against hot cheeks as I walk, or rather stumble over and up a rugged hillside where I can turn around and see the majesty of the landscape rising and falling in front of eager eyes. I get far more excited than I should about walking along a deserted beach, barefoot, feeling warm sand trickling between my toes, feeling the graininess of thousands of years of history beneath my soles. I drink in the beauty of a quiet dark forest on a summer’s day, with the sunlight dappling the path before me and the majesty of time accompanying me in the form of the gnarled, old tree trunks, twisted and warped over hundreds of years of simply being. I love it. I crave it. There are days when I simply have to abandon everything and just go out because I can’t bear to be in and that’s where I am incredibly lucky – because I have the choice to go home after a day out.
It’s a lovely word home – it caresses you and invites you indoors. For me, it evokes a sense and feeling of nostalgia as I reminisce about arriving home to my Grandma’s council house on a cold winter’s day, after school. I’d turn my key in the door and there would be a welcoming rush of warmth emanating from the hallway, mingling with the smell of beeswax polish, the almost petrol-like stench of the paraffin from the heater in the kitchen and the mouth watering aroma of hot-pot simmering on the gas stove. I loved the sounds of home, too – the blare of the television from the living room at the back of the house and the intermittent chug-chug of the old twin tub washing machine; my Granna’s voice raising in a loving greeting. Oh, how I loved getting home.
Imagine, if you can, not having one. Where do you go? What do you do with yourself during the day? How do you get any money? Where are you doing to sleep? I’m sorry, but there isn’t a comfy double divan and a fifteen tog quilt waiting for you anymore because you haven’t got a home to go to and you’re listening to someone who knows how easy it is to lose that basic essential of a roof over your head. I’ve been homeless and believe me, you lose a great deal more than bricks and mortar.
Being homeless strips you of your dignity. Being homeless renders you invisible to other, luckier people with latchkeys. Being homeless takes away your pride. Being homeless belittles you and makes you feel worthless. You hit the street with a sense of shock. You can’t quite believe that you are there and you haven’t got a fucking clue what you are going to do next. Homeless people don’t just walk the streets because they need to keep warm; they walk because they literally have nowhere else to go. I remember being in my early twenties, at a time when my ‘friends’ – and I use that term very loosely because if they’d been true friends, I wouldn’t have been walking the streets in a daze with the memory of recently burying my infant daughter and losing custody of my two sons because I didn’t have a home – anyway, at a time when my ‘friends’ were enjoying holidays, romances, new jobs, going out, staying in, just the sheer exultation of being young and having it all, I had nothing.
Nothing. It’s a weird concept, nothing. You have a think about everything you have, and try for a split second to imagine not having any of it and being sat on an ice cold paving flag on the corner of some street somewhere, looking up at all the bright people who step over you with distaste as they head home.
Yet nothing is what you have on the streets and I was reminded of this the other day, when I was in Manchester, a few days after the recent Arena bombing and I watched a couple of soldiers on patrol and I found myself thinking ‘Soldiers on the streets’ and then realised that in another sense, many soldiers have been on the streets for a lot longer than the Government would care to admit. The crazy thing is that they shouldn’t be. There’s a legal Covenant in place that should guarantee a home after service for every single member of the military personnel; only it doesn’t because in a very badly worded piece of legislation, The Armed Forces Covenant and The Community Covenant uses the word ‘should’ instead of the word ‘must’ in referring to a Local Authority’s obligation to give priority affordable housing to ex-servicemen and women.
That’s why there is approximately 7,000 of them living on the streets. Homeless. The country that they were willing to give their lives for in active service gives them nothing in return. Shameful, isn’t it? Even worse is the fact that amongst those ex military personnel sleeping rough are those traumatised by the horrors of war who suffer serious mental illnesses such as PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s thought that homeless veterans can wait up to two years to get help and by then, they’ve disintegrated into a downward spiral of alcohol, drug abuse and crime.
Veterans Association UK – a charity set up to help provide immediate housing and mental health care for ex-service men and women – estimates that around one in ten rough sleepers has a service background. That’s an appalling statistic and an appalling way to treat someone who has been willing to give their life to defending the nation that now turns its’ back when they need its’ help the most.
Whilst every homeless person has a story to tell, and every rough sleeper deserves the dignity and safety of a roof over their head, shouldn’t those who served in the armed forces have more entitlement than most to be looked after by the country they were called upon to defend?
Theresa May was right to put soldiers onto the streets in the wake of the Manchester bombing, so why is she happy to leave them there in a sleeping bag and their fatigues of a night, when what they really need is a roof?
© Amy J Steinberg 2017