With funding for houses in such contention these days, the issue of homelessness is becoming ever-more public. Rabeeah Moeen discusses homelessness in Leeds and its ‘Tent City’.
Being a student at Leeds means inevitable familiarity with Yorkshire’s largest city. It is a growing metropolis; but like everywhere, there is a section of society often not discussed for the taboo that comes with the presence of poverty in a wealthy country: homelessness.
With funding for houses in such contention these days, the issue of homelessness is becoming ever-more public.
According to a report published in late 2015, homelessness is rising. Reports state that the rise in Leeds is consistent with the rest of England, as efforts have long been made to collate figures. Conversely, statistics may often be incorrect. According to a local council report, as of last year there were only 13 rough sleepers in Leeds.
Just walking past Park Square, the home of Tent City, the number of tents is a little beyond 13. They seem to stretch back as far as you can see, clustered together in groups or standing alone under a tree. Propped up next to the path or far from watchful eyes, the people dwelling in Tent City are not invisible. You might think they are protestors, volunteers or general park-goers, but Marie, a volunteer, told me less than five people were volunteers. There were easily more than twenty people present.
According to Leeds City Council’s page, homelessness ‘can take many forms.’ Sleeping rough, sofa-surfing, staying with family. In this case, homelessness in Leeds could be even more severe than you think. Being homeless isn’t just the absence of a roof over your head, it is the absence of a home, and this is what is missing. If we think again about the housing crisis that’s so focused on young people these days, and the refugee crisis with people fleeing to the UK: there is an urgent need for homes now more than ever.
A volunteer told me people “are always willing to help out” with donations, but it’s unfortunate that so much help is required. “Sometimes we don’t have tents for them.”
Undoubtedly because Tent City has 24-hour security, meaning safety from aggression, there is a shortage of resources. Food and clothing is also provided, meaning a small safe space for rough sleepers. This is vital due to the recent surge in ‘defensive architecture,’ seeing things like hard metal seating and spikes being placed in open areas.
It’s easy to place all the blame onto those who should help, but Leeds City Council are trying. There are always strategies in place and Steve, a member of Leeds Homeless Support Group, told me there were discussions about private land for a permanent Tent City. This would help set minds at ease after the removal of the shelter from outside Leeds Art Gallery, in which a court order was obtained. The area was in the Olympics procession on 28th September. The parade was wonderful: it brought the festival air and gold-winners of Britain to Leeds to celebrate well-deserved achievements. But Steve was a little frustrated all that time and effort can’t be repeated when it comes to housing.
“They can spend almost a million on a ‘welcome back the Olympians’ parade, why can’t they do that in housing?” he said.
Amongst Tent City residents, it was clear they knew the problems couldn’t be solved at once. But perhaps processions through the streets of Leeds are a cold blow to the people who spend every night on them.
“Surely it’s better to house?” Steve said. “I’d rather put the money where it does some good.”
A second legal bid has now been launched to have Tent City removed from its newest home, again throwing future accommodation of so many people into turmoil. With almost 70-80 people moving into the safe area, it’s clear this is a place where money would do some good. Yes, they have tents and yes, volunteers and the public are helping out with clothing and food; but a tent is not a permanent home, despite the fact that Tent City seems to be growing every day.
How large will it have to grow until the council decide to act?