Tag Archives: homeless

On Brighton Streets – another review

Tom reviewed this book as a guest blogger last year. https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2019/12/15/on-brighton-streets-a-review/

I’ve finally got round to reading it. I’ve been slow because I’ve not had much to spare emotionally and I thought it would get to me – and it did. It would be fair to say that Nils Visser is a total bastard when it comes to writing books that will break your heart. He creates emotionally engaging characters and gets you to care about them and puts them, and therefore you through the grinder. Co-writing with Cair Going has in no way changed this. It’s a powerful book and ultimately hopeful, but not easy.

The two main characters are girls in their first year at secondary school, dealing with bullying, and volunteering for a homeless project in Brighton. It brings them into contact with the brutal unfairness of the adult world, and there a lot of tough lessons for them both along the way.

While the book is fiction and contains some fictional elements, much of the context is real. It’s based on the first hand experiences of the authors working as volunteers in Brighton, and draws on The Invisible Voices of Brighton & Hove project as well. The reality of homelessness, the politics, inaction, profiteering, and the innate cruelty of all that are here to be encountered. Even if you’re passably aware, there’s much here that may surprise you, and not in a good way.

Homelessness is not the fault of the homeless. It is the inevitable consequence of so many systems being under pressure that people drop through the widening cracks in increasing numbers. When homes are unaffordable, and there’s little council housing, when work is insecure and most of us are only a few paychecks from disaster, there is bound to be homelessness. Rough sleeping is only part of it, and the people living in cars, vans, boats and caravans aren’t always so visible, nor are the couch surfers, or the people exchanging sexual favours for a night’s shelter. Add to this the total lack of provision for people in mental health crisis, an increasingly cruel benefits system, loss of shelters for folk escaping domestic abuse and cuts to all resources for young people, and you start to wonder how anyone from a low income background avoids being pushed over the edge like this.

Find out more here – https://nilsnissevisser.co.uk/invisible-voices-of-brighton-and-hove-(books-stories-and-poems)

On Brighton Streets – a review

This is both a book review, and a guest blog from Tom Brown

When is the last time you finished a book and felt like a better human being  for having read it? I read pretty voraciously and it’s a a pretty rare occurrence for me. I put off reading this for a while because I’m all too aware of the growing number of rough sleepers and the people that are on the verge of losing any sort of security. Where we live, there are more rough sleepers than we have ever seen before. I’ve volunteered for a local charity and have had the chance to hear their stories and have had to endure the knowledge that some of those that I served coffee and tea to a year ago, have since died. Also, I’ve been homeless and had nearly a decade of insecure housing and unreliable access to sufficient food. (Very glad to say that was some time ago, but what I learned during that time will be with me for the rest of my life)  So, as I say, I was a bit wary of jumping in. I know Nils Visser’s work though and I would read anything he writes (and in fact, plan to read everything he has written)

Right. Enough about me. On to the review. The book under discussion here, is On Brighton Streets by Nils Visser and Cair Emma. It takes you into an understanding of homelessness though the experiences of a set of characters who are entirely relatable, and tells the story that is like the journey that many people make when they begin to understand how this can happen to people, and the way they are treated when it becomes their life. It leads us in through a fairly straightforward understanding of the plight of the homeless and gradually introduces the complexities of their situations, and the realities of the wider culture. It’s readable to the point of being very hard to put down and though it sugarcoats nothing, it leaves you with a sense of hope and a feeling that humanity is perhaps a very good thing to be a part of, and well worth getting in and giving it all another go. It would also be a good book to give to anyone you know who needs a new introduction to the subject. It’s also good for younger readers. The main character is a school age girl, in fact. If all this were not enough, there’s this “All proceeds from this book have been pledged to Cascade Creative Recovery, First Base & Sussex Homeless Support.” Cair and Nils have been at the coalface and have been heroic in their ceaseless (I won’t say tireless, because they are often tired!) work with and for the homeless and vulnerable in the Brighton area.
Here is the link. Go get you one (or several) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Brighton-Streets-Nisse-Visser/dp/9082783649

Why are we not helping these other people first?

It seems like a fair point. Why are we getting so upset about refugees from ‘away’ when we’ve got our own homeless people, our own families in poverty depending on food banks, our own vulnerable, suffering people? Why divert resources when we can’t look after our own?

It’s a clever card to play, and it’s worth looking at the people playing it and casting your mind back a bit. Are these people volunteering in food banks? Are these people below the poverty line themselves? Are these people you’ve ever seen raise a hand to help another human being? I notice that the answer seems to be ‘no’. The people keenest to say we should look after our own first, have been reliably not doing that for some time now.

What this does, and is designed to do, is have us wondering about the various merits of people. Who deserves our help? Who is most vulnerable, most in need, most deserving? And of course the more time we spend arguing with each other over whether person A is more or less deserving than person B, the more time we spend talking each other into the idea that maybe these people aren’t very deserving at all. Right wing agenda success achieved!

It’s about judging people. It’s about looking at need, and finding reasons to say ‘no’. It’s about the idea that there’s a hierarchy of need based on worthiness, not on vulnerability. All people need warmth, shelter, food, clean water and physical safety. All people. Some people are less able to provide that for themselves than others. If we have to choose, need should be the priority. That and whether we can do something. You might as well do what you can rather than fretting that you should have gone out and found someone worse off to help. Deal with what’s in front of you.

There are people who would like us to choose. It supports the story that resources are scarce. We can’t house our own people so we can’t house refugees. Bollocks. Shelter reckons there are about ten empty homes for every homeless family in the UK. We’ve got money for weapons, for MP pay rises, for a nuclear submarine we can never use and a vanity rail project so that people can get out of London a wee bit faster. We don’t mind epic tax dodging by big business, and we subsidise inadequate wages out of the state purse to make life easier for business. It is a lie that we don’t have the resources. We do have the resources. What we don’t have is the will to distribute those resources even slightly fairly, or to deploy them based on need.

Help whoever you can help. In whatever way makes sense to you.