I am in tears and really very angry after an abusive attack in the churchyard of St Laurence’s, Ludlow this lunchtime.
I was talking to N. He’s the rather eccentric homeless gentleman you’ll see about town, especially in the churchyard. We were chatting about the medieval character of the town. Ludlow’s fairly new to him after he walked here from Oxford.
It has taken a while to get a conversation with N going. I’m happy to chat to anyone, but I also have an agenda here.
I want to find N help. But you need to be ready for help when you are rough sleeping and we have been talking about that. Beyond this, I can tell you no more other than I will seek help for him as soon as he is ready.
This lunchtime, we were having a pleasant chat. We weren’t talking about his situation, just swapping stories on various campaigns and protest marches in our pasts. His experience is very different from mine but we have discovered we share common ground on what we see as destruction of societal and environmental values.
We weren’t allowed to finish our conversation. After just a few minutes, we were being heckled and sworn at.
I couldn’t hear the first words. But I couldn’t miss what followed:
“I saw you buying cheap cider in Spar,” the heckler shouted at me from around 10 yards away.
[I’m guilty as charged and I am drinking that cider now.]
“You’re going to f—ing share it with him. With that f—ing tramp.”
I didn’t engage with this 30-something lout. I was more concerned about N’s reaction. He was calmer than I was. I guess he is used to it.
N is not a tramp. He is simply homeless and rough sleeping.
The lout clearly didn’t like being ignored and shouted:
“What sort of f—ing councillor are you?”
Again I didn’t respond. But I’ll tell you what sort of councillor I am. I’m a councillor that cares about people who are homeless – with a personal passion.
Not so long back, my life and mind broke into fragments. I ended up rough sleeping on benches, compost bins, anywhere I could.
What I learnt from that episode is that anyone of us, no matter how successful, can end up rough sleeping or homeless. I remember most the fear. The terror of not understanding what was happening in my head. The panic of having no money, no future and, I thought, no friends. I remember how difficult it was to get help. But unlike N, for me rough sleeping didn’t last long. I was rescued by people I barely knew. I had friends I didn’t know I had. I am forever grateful to them and my family for giving me so much support.
It’s a different world for me now. I’m secure. I’m a Shropshire Councillor. And I represent everyone in my division, whether they have a home or not.
There are other homeless people in Ludlow, at least one of them rough sleeping more often than not. None of them are tramps, let alone “effing tramps”. I am appalled that there are a small number of louts in this town who behave aggressively towards people who need help, rather than helping them.
Homeless people are not tramps. They are simply ourselves in different circumstances.
Here to I talk to Eric Smith of BBC Radio Shropshire about the events of Saturday and homelessness:
More information on homelessness at Homeless Link.
Shrewsbury Ark: A drop-in centre helping homeless and vulnerable people.
My Question on Homelessness to Shropshire Council – 18 December
Last Tuesday I submitted a question on homelessness to the next full Shropshire Council meeting. It reads:
Question to Council 18 December 2014: Homelessness in Shropshire
Shropshire Council’s Homelessness Strategy is due for review in 2015.
1) What is the timetable for that review and what will be its scope / terms of reference?
2) How many people were rough sleepers in Shropshire in the years 2010 to 2014?
3) How is the number of rough sleepers calculated (counted, estimated)?
4) What arrangements are currently in place for providing shelter in severe weather emergencies for rough sleepers?
5) How many people were classified as statutory homeless in Shropshire in the years 2010 to 2014?
6) How many cases of homelessness prevention or relief did Shropshire Council action, outside the statutory homelessness framework, in the years 2010 to 2014?