The BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Show has reported that councils across the country are tackling homelessness by buying one-way train tickets for rough-sleepers in their cities. It is believed that some councils have spent up to £1000 of their budget a year to move homeless people off their streets. What is being labelled as a ‘scheme’ is apparently designed with the intention of helping the homeless ‘reconnect’ with estranged family and friends.
However, in reality, homeless people interviewed claimed that they had been offered train tickets to places that they had never even visited. One man, Gareth Glendall-Pickton, living in Bournemouth, was offered a one-way ticket to Manchester, a city almost 300 miles away, where he knew nobody at all. He said it made him feel sick.
The word ‘scheme’ is right. ‘Scheme’ implies something secretive, something that is done quietly, because you know it’s wrong. This is something that was kept quiet, a dirty secret operating quietly in the background whilst anyone it affected lacked the means to speak up. Dressing this up as councils playing happy families and reuniting lost loved ones might make you feel better, but ultimately it’s just a lie that is sweeter to swallow than the truth.
Offering vulnerable homeless people tickets to strange distant cities is wrong. It serves as a damning wake-up call about the value that we place on the lives of the homeless. Sending rough-sleepers away to other cities, washing our hands of them and passing the ‘problem’ over to the next council is cruel. It makes people into nothing more than commodities – free to be shifted around and disposed of at a moment’s notice.
And what happens when the homeless person arrives in a new city? Do they magically have a roof over their head and a support system? Or do they go back to sleeping on the pavement, until the day a council official comes up to them and offers them a train ticket?
Some of the homeless people asked said they believed councils were offering to pay for their train tickets just to get them out of their cities. Nauseating as this is, it makes sense. We don’t want to believe that people would pay to remove the homeless because it looks bad to have them sitting on the street, we’d rather sell ourselves the story of their being offered a ‘fresh start’ but we’re kidding ourselves. The councils are focusing on the property-hunters, the tourists that visit their towns, and the effect that seeing rough-sleepers might have on them. These are the people they care about. It’s all about money, and if you don’t have any then that is your own problem.
If there were ever a story to show that some people are treated as more important than others then this is it. It is devastating that people are made to feel so acutely unwanted, uncared for – simply because they don’t have a postcode. This is social cleansing, and it is no way to deal with anything. Councils should be aiming to help the homeless where they are, treating them as the people that they are, instead of the statistic they represent. The word ‘homeless’ itself is a problem. Just because someone doesn’t have a house to live in, doesn’t mean they don’t have a place they call their home. The government claim to be investing £550 million in 2020 to address the issue of homelessness. I just wonder how much of that will be spent on one-way train tickets.
(Image courtesy of The Independent)