Fact or Fiction? Homelessness
Published by Ellie Warfield for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Featured
Fact or Fiction? Homelessness
With the number of homeless people set to spiral in the coming months, our ever topical series gives you 10 ‘facts’ about homelessness and asks you to guess which one deserves to be left out in the cold.
1. Homelessness on the rise
According to the latest official figures issued by the department for Communities and Local Government, there has been a 17% increase in the number of homeless households ‘owed council accommodation’, compared to the same quarter last year. Despite the best efforts of the Government to play down the figures and distance itself from any responsibility for them, research by the homelessness charity Crisis claimed the worst was still to come and laid the blame firmly at the Coalition’s door. Chief executive Leslie Morphy said: “The Government is dismantling the buffers against poverty and unemployment that have traditionally kept a roof over vulnerable households’ heads. Homelessness is rising and we fear cuts to housing benefit and housing budgets, alongside reforms in the Welfare and Localism Bills will cause it to increase yet further.”
2. ‘Wetting down’ rough sleepers
Operation Poncho, a partnership involving the City of London Corporation, the police and homelessness charity Broadway, has courted controversy with its novel and ‘robust’ approach to moving on rough sleepers. As part of Poncho, City of London cleaning teams would hose ‘hotspots’ to deter vagrants in a process called ‘wetting down’. The idea behind the approach is to get ‘entrenched’ rough sleepers off the streets and engaged with local authorities. The initiative made national headlines when the Reverend Simon Perry started to sleep rough on City of London streets to highlight the tactics used and experienced ‘wetting down’ on three separate occasions.
3. Prince William spends night sleeping rough
The homelessness charity Centrepoint has benefited greatly from having the heir to the throne, Prince William, as its patron. In 2009, to mark the charity’s 40th anniversary, Centrepoint chief executive Seyi Obakin challenged William to spend one night sleeping rough on London’s streets. Bedding down on cardboard boxes near Blackfriars Bridge on a freezing December night left a lasting impression on the prince, possibly because he nearly got run over by a road sweeper.
4. Grant Shapps’ ‘passion’
Despite the worrying increase in homelessness directly linked to Government policy, Housing Minister Grant Shapps revealed recently that tackling homelessness and rough sleeping is what first got him into politics. During his time as Shadow Housing Minister, Shapps wrote a series of research papers focusing on homelessness issues and on Christmas Eve 2007, he slept on the pavement of Victoria station in a sleeping bag. The following year he launched the Conservative Homelessness Foundation, alongside David Cameron. Leading lights from the sector, including the chief executives of Shelter and Crisis and Big Issue founder John Bird, were sufficiently impressed that they agreed to join its advisory panel. Shapps maintains that tackling homeless is still a cause close to his heart and he recently announced the national roll out of his 'No Second Night Out' initiative.
5. Celebrity supporters
Never shy to jump on the latest publicity-generating bandwagon, a host of celebrities have leant their support to homelessness charities in recent years. While Shelter can’t really compete with Centrepoint’s ability to call on the Royal family when it needs a fund-raising boost, it has an army of TV, film and music stars willing to help out from Sean Lock and Jarvis Cocker to Keeley Hawes (pictured), Patsy Palmer and Davina McCall. Crisis, meanwhile, has benefited from a series of ‘hidden gigs’ by big name music acts including Coldplay, Gary Barlow, David Gilmour and, ahem, Noah and the Whale.
6. That’s entertainment?
Videos depicting violent bouts of fisticuffs between vagrant men in San Diego, San Francisco and Las Vegas became an internet sensation back in 2002 after a local film-maker allegedly paid homeless people to take part in fights. Bumfights.com attracted visitors from all over the globe, much to the disgust of housing and homelessness charities. A subsequent DVD sold 250,000 copies in its first month of release and made a ‘star’ of a rough sleeper called Rufus who was filmed carrying out a series of incredibly dangerous stunts.
7. Super-strength beer ‘biggest killer’
London-based charity Thames Reach has campaigned for years about the need to hike the price of ‘super-strength’ beers and ciders to make them unaffordable for homeless people. Research published by Thames Reach has revealed the extent to which health problems, anti-social behaviour and violence experienced by homeless people have been fuelled by cheap drink with high alcohol content. The charity also claimed that super-strength beers were responsible for more deaths amongst the homeless people it supports than either heroin or crack cocaine.
8. Lib Dem MP slept rough for a year
Prior to becoming the formidable and highly respected Communities Minister we know and love today, Lib Dem MP Andrew Stunell spent a year living rough on the streets of downtown Surbiton during his early 20s. While training to be an architect, the young Stunell got into money troubles and was evicted from his private rental accommodation over an unpaid rent bill. During his days on the streets, Stunell grew a beard, wore the same underpants for a year and adopted a fox cub he found on scrubland near the railway station. It was also around this time that he inherited the nickname ‘Stinky’.
9. Homeless turned into ‘modern-day slaves’
During the summer of 2011, The Times reported how an extensive ‘slavery’ operation was preying on homeless and vulnerable people in southern England with up to 100 men held captive and forced to work for no wages. The ‘recruitment’ process involved the kidnapping of rough sleepers – many of them from central and eastern Europe – who were driven to isolated locations, including Traveller camps, and held in squalid accommodation while carrying out manual work under the threat of violence.
10. Arrested for moving out of rubbish bin
A homeless man was arrested by police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for failing to notify them that he had moved out of the industrial rubbish bin he had listed as his address. Charles Mader, a convicted sex offender, was required by law to keep authorities up to date with his movements but failed to inform police that he had been residing in a homeless hostel for 10 days and not his usual ‘dumpster’.
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ANSWER: Number eight is the work of fiction. Although Andrew Stunell did grow up in Surbiton and was an architecture student, to our knowledge he never spent a year sleeping rough nor did he raise a fox cub. It is also highly unlikely that Mr Stunell has any sort of nickname.