This week marks the 50th anniversary of Cathy Come Home. Cathy Come Home let everybody off the hook. It didn’t put the boot in where it should have done. Earlier this year I wrote a piece for the PCS Union explaining why I believe this.
In 1966 there were comparatively few Cathys. A housing problem, sure. The devastation of the war and the longer war against the poor, reflected in the Victorian slums, were being tackled. I was not even particularly aware of “the homeless”. Neither was Ken Loach (director of Cathy Come Home). But one of Jeremy Sandford’s neighbours disappeared. Jeremy, an investigative reporter, asked why. No one seemed to know, so he followed the trail.
Cathy Come Home was the result. It caused a sensation because few really knew the facts. Today there are countless more homeless; even more in despair at ever fulfilling their dream of a safe, secure place of their own.
Everyone knows the details and the numbers. Not a week goes by without yet another television documentary; radio report; or newspaper feature.
And nothing is ever done. Politicians promise. It makes them seem compassionate. But then they walk away. The homeless have a small voice and few votes. But they’re our politicians.
What has happened to us as a society?
Do we simply not care anymore? Are the homeless not our brothers and sisters? Or have those feelings been abolished in our competitive, winner takes all brave new world, where everyone is a commodity to be bought and sold? Or discarded. Have we given up on the idea of community in favour of winner takes all?
Because if we have become a society of selfish individuals, competing with each other, insecure and scared, I have news for you. We might ignore the homeless children with the insouciance we show as we walk past a homeless man sleeping outside a luxury shop on Piccadilly. But experts from those who work each day with the homeless tell us that it takes one, or at the most, two pieces of bad judgment and two or three pieces of bad luck and anyone can be homeless.
Yes, literally anyone. That is not empty rhetoric used to shock. It is fact. So we are, potentially, “all in this together”.
We could start to care for each other again. See that the children have a right to a warm, secure home without cockroaches and rats running all over them. Stop private landlords’ exploitation of their misery. Accept the market won’t solve the misery. Build social housing for need, not for profit. Homes for everyone.
Take action and help the homeless
Crisis, Shelter and the other charities deserve our support this winter. It’s cold out there and many people are going to suffer a bleak Christmas. Even though it’s just a sticking paster where serious surgery is needed.
I have deep reservations about the rise of charities into large fund raising institutions, with governing bodies full of Royals and the great and the good from the City and career politics – people who represent the very source of the problem. It could all get stuck in the limbo of “doing good works”, useless and insulting to the homeless as they salve the conscience and adorn the CV.
Crisis has the idea of working to make themselves redundant. Refreshing. I hope they succeed.
But I also know that the charities are full of principled experts, who daily make a difference to families’ lives.
Please support them – but also work politically to change a cruel system.
Let’s make sure everyone has a warm, dry, safe, secure place to live. Homes, not assets. No distinction between the deserving and the undeserving.
Lets look after our children – that means all our children.
We could start this Christmas, giving with our hearts and fighting with our heads.