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Motivations

January 10 2021
Writer Maeve McClenaghan says homelessness policy, “Doesn’t seem to tally with a government who says they want to address homelessness and care for people experiencing homelessness." © MM Writer Maeve McClenaghan says homelessness policy, “Doesn’t seem to tally with a government who says they want to address homelessness and care for people experiencing homelessness." © MM

The book No Fixed Abode written by Maeve McClenaghan was reviewed in the last edition of the Pavement magazine. Here Maeve explains what motivated her. Interview by Sarah Hough

Q: Why did you write No Fixed Abode?

"It was the winter of 2017 which was a really bad winter going into 2018 and I kept seeing these really sad news reports in local papers about people who were dying while experiencing homelessness. There were a couple that really struck a chord with me. One was about a man called Tony who passed away in the back garden of a house he used to own on a horrible snowy night. To me that was really shocking. At the same time, I was working in central London and every day when I would come into work it seemed like there were more people rough sleeping. Tents were popping up where I’d never seen tents before and it just started a question in my mind which is: 'If we are clearly seeing more people who are experiencing homelessness are more people dying or passing away while homeless?' And that simple question set me off on a journey which then took years because it turned out nobody knew – so I took it upon myself to try and pull that data together to get an answer."

Q: What made you so determined?

"To start with it was my journalistic curiosity. But the deeper I got and the more people I spoke to who were experiencing homelessness or family members of people who had lost loved ones, it became more of a moral imperative to tell people’s stories to try and show the many different ways in which the system is failing people. It became apparent quickly it wasn’t going to be: 'Here’s the one thing that’s gone wrong and if we solve this everything is fine.' It was finding that every single layer of the support system has been chipped away. It took time to really lay that out properly."

Q: Have you heard about the Home Office’s plans to introduce new immigration rules where non-UK nationals could be deported if they are found to be rough sleeping?

"It’s really shocking. It’s a foolhardy policy that is just going to drive people underground and away from support services. We saw that previously when there were outreach services that seemed to be connected with immigration authorities. There was a huge amount of distrust because of that and then people weren’t connecting with services. As we go into winter people need to be inside and to find shelter spaces. It’s really dangerous to say to some of the most vulnerable people who have no other support, ‘Come in but we might well deport you against your wishes’. That is going to kill people. To me it doesn’t seem to tally with a government who says they want to address homelessness and care for people experiencing homelessness."

Q: What do you think the government should do to better support people experiencing homelessness?

"The book was written before we hit this pandemic but I think what it’s taught us is that a home, a safe place to call your own, is not a luxury or a status symbol, it’s a basic human right and it’s a life-saving human right. We need to address the housing crisis in the UK, but I think the government’s focus on rough sleeping is very short-sighted. It seems to me we try and bail out a bathtub while the tap is still running with people falling into homelessness because of cuts to mental health services, cuts to drug and alcohol services, immigration policies, people now dealing with unemployment issues and even no fault evictions. All these reasons mean people are still falling into homelessness and meanwhile those who have experienced it aren’t given the support to find their way back into housing."

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