24 May, 2006

Four walls and a window

Over the past year I have talked a lot about homeless people that are rough sleepers but today I want to talk more about people stuck in the hostel system and give a brief but compact history of how homeless hostels came to be.
Getting into a hostel these days to be truthful involves a certain amount of luck because there are simply not enough beds. Once you become homeless finding a place to live is near impossible if you don't have money or have certain problems.
Imagine living in another century where what would be classed today as a hostel. The first was called a workhouse. It was mainly used for orphans and vagrants and would be the nightmare we wouldn't want to revisit. Another place was sort of a nightshelter. It was a penny a night to lay over a piece of rope with one leg on the floor. The rope was tied to a ring at both ends. The next day you went to work or sea because this was where most seamen stayed. One of the first so called hostels in Britain was in Aberystwyth it was for female students, not homeless people. One of the very first homeless hostels was run by the church in Bristol during WW2 for people that had become homeless during air raids. Although there was a homeless crisis in this country. It wasn't until the early sixties that Homelessness became the massive issue it has become. Homeless hostels began to spring up in every town in Britain.
Homelessness has been a problem as far back as the 7th century, the English king Hlothaere passed laws to punish vagrants. William the Conqueror forbade anyone to leave the land where he worked. Edward the First ordered weekly searches to round up vagrants. Ever since then the number of homeless still rises and falls. We know that in the 16th century estimates of around 20,000 vagrants were made. It was in this century that it decided to try to house vagrants rather than punish them. It was by introducing what was called bridewells. These were place where they were supposed to train homeless people in a profession but where in fact just places of intolerable cruelty. They where later replace by workhouses these were even harsher and crueler. It's inmates often fell ill or died of starvation and the even crueler regimes. These then where replaced by what was thought to be a much more fairer and workable system they where called the spikes (dormitory housing provided by local boroughs), ( pictured on the left) Would you believe George Orwell, stayed in them while researching poverty in Britain?
In the 1930s there where 17,000 people using the spike and only 80 were found sleeping rough on the streets of London. In the early nineteen sixties homelessness became the issue it still is today. Actual homelessness has been decreased but now we have people in hostels that have only four walls a bed and a window. One hostel dweller I spoke to said what have I done wrong? I have been in the same hostel for three years. I don't have a drug problem and I am not mentally ill. It's like I am in prison. The only difference is I am allowed out at night till midnight. Although hostels today are a lot different to what they used to be. Is it right that people are left in this temporary for years with no hope of moving on? It is a fact that it does seem to be the case as the number of people in temporary accommodation increases year by year. Is building super hostels the answer to the problem? Over the centuries there have been different ways of finding a solutions to homeless none seem to have worked and now this government plan to put even more into temporary accommodation. Are hostels the answer at all? I believe that hostels are not the final solution as there are various problems that homeless people suffer from and lack of learning and confidence in themselves seem to be the main stumbling blocks most homeless agencies are coming across.


alyceclover said...

Ah, so that explains it! Some man passed a law to make criminals out of people who didn't want to work for him, because he was too lazy to do so. "As things change things remain the same", used to be slaves building Pyramids for the Rulers, just to have some crumbs to eat. Now that we are civilized, people who haven't a means of support, are still considered "vagrants", even if the cause is infirmities, of body or mind. Sad. There is so much on the earth, that none should have to go homeless and hungry, if there weren't that greedy element that wants it all at the expense of others.

womble said...

Jamie, where are you? I hope you're ok.

Will you be at the Square Mile Run? I shall be on the volunteers' helpdesk.