Southend Borough Council have proposed a Public Space Protection Order which when you drill down into it, effectively equates poverty with anti-social behaviour and will makes it nigh on impossible for any homeless person in the town centre to avoid breaking the law: Fines for begging and sleeping in Southend’s town centre being considered. It was only a few posts ago that we highlighted Southend Borough Council’s less than sympathetic attitude towards homeless people: Shifting responsibility for homelessness.

All this is about is an attempt to sweep the issue of homelessness and rough sleeping under the carpet. The problem is that as society becomes ever more fractured and precarious, the number of homeless people is soaring. All it takes is a redundancy and a few missed mortgage or rent payments and the illusion of security that many people think they enjoy dissolves into the horror of having to contemplate life on the streets. For the millions who are already on the edge as a result of low pay, precarious work and the brutality of the Department of Work and Pensions in administering a dysfunctional benefits regime, one missed payment is the difference between having a roof over your head and destitution. Unless people have their own private sources of wealth, homelessness could happen to pretty much anyone. Reading between the lines, it appears that falling into poverty and destitution is what Southend Borough Council effectively want to criminalise.

We acknowledge that within the severe constraints of austerity, Southend Borough Council are making some efforts on a housing and homeless strategy to find more properties to house people. However, all this is doing is putting a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. Also as we’ve stated before, there are numerous empty retail and office premises in and around the town centre that, if the political will was there, could be used as shelter over the coming winter months. In the short term, we ask people to show what practical solidarity they can with homeless people in Southend. This group of volunteers are making sterling efforts to help homeless people in the town: ONE LOVE Soup Kitchen SOUTHEND ESSEX.

In the long term, the only solution is getting rid of a system that only judges people by what they can contribute towards the bottom line of the corporations. Also, a system that views housing as a financial asset to be brought and sold for profit and not as a natural right for people to have a secure roof over their heads. A system that criminalises people who through no fault of their own, can no longer contribute to the profits of the rich. A system that is starting to break up before our eyes and will resort in increasingly draconian and inhumane methods to keep itself going. How much more of this are we prepared to take?