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NEWS IN BRIEF 135: Dec 2021-Jan 2022

December 01 2021
A portrait display at the Secret Museum © Museum of Homelessness A portrait display at the Secret Museum © Museum of Homelessness

Our monthly round-up of what‘s been happening...

Congratulations to all involved in the Secret Museum, a temporary museum run by the Museum of Homelessness (MoH) in London from 27 October to 7 November. The show brought together numerous true stories from the pandemic-stricken homeless community. Starting with a walking tour, which took in some of the local history of London’s South Bank and Waterloo area, including the old Bullring (now a massive Imax cinema), which was home to a large community of homeless people in the 80s and 90s. Attendees gradually worked their way to the Secret Museum itself. Here visitors were provided a stark reminder of the difficulties people have endured this last couple of years. These were stories from the front line, with MoH a core member of the Covid-19 homeless taskforce, set up to provide support to homeless people in the pandemic. 

  • To learn more about the work of MoH and find out what they have planned next, please visit their website here:
    museumofhomelessness.org

Reshuffle kerfuffle

So, farewell Robert Jenrick, and welcome Michael Gove. Like a mad game of musical chairs, only with far greater consequences, the cabinet reshuffle saw numerous minsters rotating roles in government. Gove replaces Jenrick as secretary of state at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Gove started his new role in September and is tasked with creating a strategy to deliver the government’s target of eradicating rough sleeping altogether.

Fresh start

According to industry website British Baker, the food chain Greggs has launched a partnership with Only a Pavement Away, a charity that helps connect people facing homelessness with jobs within the hospitality industry. Roisin Currie, Greggs’ People and Retail Director, said this partnership will help them “further support people facing homelessness,” by providing a “fresh start” to those who need it. Only a Pavement Away aims to create more than 700 jobs for those with insecure housing by 2024.

  • Visit the Only a Pavement Away website for information about this scheme and similar ones at: onlyapavementaway.co.uk

Quiz master

Many will know Jay Flynn, who during lockdown became an internet sensation through hosting virtual pub quizzes – which attracted more than half a million participants and raised more than £1m for charity. However, his life was very different in 2012. After a job loss and relationship breakdown, Flynn found himself on a bench in South Bank. For two years, he struggled to access the help he needed. This was before The Connection at St Martin-in-theFields came to his aid, helping, Flynn says, to rebuild him from “a shell of a person.” In October, the Lancashire Times reported he ran the London Marathon in aid of The Connection, running past the bench he used to sleep on.

  • Find information about The Connection at St Martin-in-theFields and other services in the List (pages A-P in the magazine, available to download)

Food for thought

Khaled Wakkaa fled the Syrian civil war in 2013. Before securing asylum in the UK in 2017, he and his family struggled. His wife fell seriously ill and with no funds to support themselves, she was denied entry to a Lebanese hospital. Thanks to donations from strangers she was able to access healthcare. Khaled said that this experience, alongside other caring strangers that helped him on his journey to the UK, has compelled him to repay this action, by engaging in voluntary work. Wakkaa spends most of his Sundays distributing home-cooked Syrian vegetarian meals to homeless people in Exeter city centre. “I understand what it’s like to be hungry,” he told the Guardian in October. Wakkaa now dreams of opening a Syrian street food van. With help from his local community in the UK, he is now accessing the training to turn his dream into a reality.

Token gesture...

Following the death of Billy Abernethy-Hope, his family launched ‘Billy Chips’, a new scheme aimed at tackling homelessness and food poverty. Being an ambulance driver, Billy worked with many vulnerable and homeless people. Before his death, Billy told his family about his idea to create a token that could be given to someone who is homeless, instead of money, which they could then exchange in cafes and shops for food and drinks. Following his death, his older sister decided to bring his plan to fruition. The Times reports the scheme has had immediate success, having spread from Bristol to the neighbouring cities of Bath and Oxford.

Centene update

The latest on issue 132’s news story about a US health insurance firm’s efforts to take over numerous UK-based services. The Centene Corporation took over 49 privately run GP surgeries in 2021, also taking on NHS-funded contracts including the Camden Health Improvement Practice for homeless patients. Courts will now examine whether the acquisition of these GP services was lawful. Islington councillor Anjna Khurana has – with the support of doctors, academics and campaigners – demanded a judicial review of the deal, and lawyers representing her confirmed to Private Eye the courts will now consider “the serious and widespread public concerns” over the deal.

Foul play

As the football season approaches its festive fixture pile-up in December, Premier League clubs in England’s top division hoped to raise funds for the homeless charity Shelter by having ‘home’ clubs play in their away strips. The unused home shirts were to be signed by players and then auctioned off, Sky Sports reported in November. Alas, the fundraising scheme was refused almost immediately by the Premier League. The league released a statement explaining the request would contravene its rules on supporting charities “centrally”. 

SCOTLAND - News in brief

COP and coppers: More on the COP26 climate change summit held in Glasgow in late October to early November. Metro reported in November that police working the summit donated their surplus food to Homeless Project Scotland, a charity that runs soup kitchens in the city. The outdoor kitchens were feeding up to 1,300 people every night during the summit. Colin McInnes, the charity’s chairman and founder, told Metro: “Delegates [invited to COP26] are walking by the soup kitchen all the time as it’s on the way to the train station. It’s horrifying that none of them want to pop by and say hello.”


Spiky decision

Anti-homeless architecture is prospering in Edinburgh. Issue 132 of the Pavement detailed plans to install rails at the National Records of Scotland’s West Register House building in Charlotte Square. In late October Edinburgh Council approved the plans, which include installing spiky railings to deter rough sleeping and “anti-social behaviour”, according to The Scotsman. The spiky rails will be placed by the entrance to the building.

TLC TBC

Everyone Home, a collective of homeless charities and organisations, and academic sector organisations, have welcomed plans to introduce a National Care Service in Scotland. The Scottish Government held a consultation period ending in early November. The Everyone Home organisations, facilitated by Homeless Network Scotland, consulted more than 200 members and interested parties. This research contributed to the Everyone Home position that a National Care Service should be “People led, Home centred, Preventative, Rights based, Destigmatising, Fairer and Improving.” Everyone Home also stated the National Care Service should put in place “care and support to prevent homelessness,” and include “new legal duties on public bodies.”

COP giveth and taketh

Alas, the police can’t score a positive PR goal without going up the other end and netting a howler of an owngoal while they’re at it. So it proved when London's Metropolitan Police and South Wales Police, drafted in to provide extra police presence in Glasgow during COP26, attempted a raid on a squat run by activists. The police attempted to force entry into the Baile Hoose lodgings, but the raid was called off once Police Scotland officers arrived at the scene, the Daily Record understands. The Baile Hoose lodgings were used as squat accommodation during COP26 for people unable to afford accommodation in the city during the summit.  

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