Down & Out In Bournemouth & Poole Day 14 : The Young

‘Egotism is one of the most offensive and contemptible littlenesses a civilised man can exhibit’

For the first time in two months of using the Salvation Army Soup Run, a dozen or so young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two turned up. Young people who had only recently acquired homes, or were sleeping in tents in secluded locations (as groups) or who had work but no roof over their heads. Young people who because of the difficulty of their circumstances, are having to make some hard choices about what they are prepared to do in order to enjoy the standard of living, society and the media have defined as being normal.

They are not supposed to become drug dealers in order to generate the money that will give them a car, a house and the right to a family. They are not supposed to link up with pimps or thieves or loan sharks.

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B. is twenty years old, she has kids, these kids are in care and B. has a problem with drink & with drugs because that is how she copes with her kids being in care. Poole Borough Council is not under any duty to house B. who has left her place of ‘local connection’ to avoid the ex-husband who triggered off all this misery.

B. can be registered as a ‘rough sleeper’ by the Crime Reduction Initiative, which effectively means that now the council can make it, it’s focused mission to ‘persuade’ B. to leave Poole & take up rough sleeping elsewhere. From time to time the crime reduction Initiative houses people, but these occasions are few and far between. On one occasion we attended a Crime Reduction Initiative coffee morning, only to be told after we asked for a second coffee that ‘this is not a coffee shop it’s supposed to be a moving on stop!’. In other words the coffee and toast were only there to facilitate conversations about how much progress rough sleepers had made, in finding themselves places to live without the help of the state.

The soup run has a reputation for taking place at that particular time of the day when drug addicts and alcoholics are likely to turn up, nobody likes to think of themselves as winding up that drunk or that much in need of a high, so certain folk don’t bother turning up. Ridiculous to believe that a run of bad luck can be passed from person to person like an infection, but some people believe that strongly enough to avoid coming.

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As a rule the police avoid the soup run, this is a good thing since it enables everyone to focus merely on the process of getting food and extra clothes if they need them. It took a while for me to work out that though they avoid direct confrontation with people merely because they are homeless, they are around in the homeless community, keeping an eye out for trouble.

If you sleep in a public place without a lock and key on the door or a burglar alarm you are vulnerable, and there are those who are nasty enough to exploit that vulnerability. Hence the police presence around homelessness projects and around the homeless. Call it paranoia but, I have encountered people who said they were sleeping rough but didn’t look it, who clearly had an agenda & who weren’t familiar to the homeless community.

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I’ve spoken with out-of-towners who were present for a couple of days or weeks and then disappeared altogether. Pimps, drug dealers looking for scouts, and criminals looking to settle scores, all can pass through in transit to some place else and do. The other day I met a gentleman who’d been Asbo’d out of Bournemouth whilst he was being treated on a casualty ward, when I asked why, he looked at me sorrowfully and said, “Well, I stabbed a drug dealer a couple of times but it had already been to court”. The details of his case weren’t all that clear but he was really cut up about the Criminal Behaviour Order (ASBO).

Bournemouth they say, is a-wash with drugs and Boscombe (one of the poorer areas in Bournemouth) is notorious for them, and the drug dealers keep on coming. From as far away as Manchester and Liverpool and from as nearby as Romford in London. There is no mention of those who are home-grown because to all intents and purposes according to the police, the drugs problem isn’t ‘local’ as such, the corruption has been brought in from the outside.

Why then do youngsters in Poole & Bournemouth plump for this option? What could make them believe that this is the right route to take to a decent home and family? Perhaps if Poole’s Crime Reduction Intiative team cared to put their jobs on the line they could provide us with a little insight?

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