One day late last month, as tourists and residents streamed through Ousegate, police stood guard with blue and white tape. Passersby didn’t realize they were passing the spot where one of York’s homeless people had fallen. Fallen because the night before there was no bed for him except the street bench; his last night on earth.
I had spoken to him just 24 hours earlier, in the early hours of the morning, before the city rained.
I accompanied the Salvation Army on their daily tour of York, shaking hands with our homeless people on the street with a cheerful “good morning”, a cup of tea or bacon rolls, before they set to work providing each individual with the all-round care they needed , as they do for those who fight in the streets every day.
They want to do more, but there are some who want to cut their service and have them do less for a few thousand pounds. Is that worth a human life?
It’s 2023 and there are still people sleeping outside.
It’s 2023 and our most vulnerable still don’t have a safe place to lay their heads – men and women in desperate need.
I witnessed broken bodies, I saw open wounds – a woman whose body was damaged by an attack, ulcers and disease.
I have seen broken minds as a failed society has sucked their humanity and dignity dry; I witnessed a community that held together but was still full of loneliness and sadness; I saw what each of us could be if we weren’t as lucky as we are.
Many will know that it was the injustice of homelessness that sparked my political awakening, as Thatcher’s government threw people out of work and out of their homes.
It was a political decision. It is always a political decision. Those in power have failed to fulfill their purpose and instead of protecting those in need, they are protecting themselves.
The government has a lot to answer, but so does York City Council. Previous governments have wasted their time and failed our most vulnerable. In May we elected a new government, a Labor team, and I know they are working so hard on these issues. But winter is coming and a man lay dying on our streets and is no more.
Just like my tears, I won’t hold back my anger.
A year ago I did the same tour with the Salvation Army; nothing had changed. Then we fought to keep the NAPpad, a unit of four self-contained micro-apartments for homeless people. The council closed its doors. A NAPpad would have kept our dear friend alive. Now he’s dead.
We need a new beginning, because this also applies to our homeless people. Countless others are struggling, teetering on the brink of homelessness, and soon they too may be joining them: failed in their apartments and homes, trapped by domestic violence, mental health issues and substance abuse. The roads are not far for them.
These are not housing issues, although a home is needed. These are complex and cross-agency challenges. We need a public health approach to end homelessness in York and we must implement it urgently.
The words “can’t, don’t want to, it’s complicated, it will take time, won’t be enough.” There is only one answer: “We will do it.”
I have spoken a lot with Cllr. Michael Pavlovic first talked about my time out from the Salvation Army, then about my remorse when I heard the tragic news, and now about my reaction.
He heard my anger and my determination. I know he means it too, and we will both fight together for everyone who needs housing – on the streets, in substandard housing or in places that just don’t work.
We will find a way, no matter what it takes, because thousands in York need a home, better security and services to support their wellbeing to stay at home. People on the streets need a safe place to rest and the vital compassion and care that will help them live.
I have never experienced such exceptional care and dedication as I did from the Salvation Army team. They could do so much if they only had the chance. One thing is certain: no one could take her place.
When Parliament returns this week, I will once again focus on those who need it most.
I won’t come through on the other side like some do, and I won’t hold back.
Let’s open NAPpad, let’s set up these comprehensive services and let’s give every single homeless person on the streets in York the hope and care they need.
I will have no peace until my dear neighbors and friends are safe. But with sincere sadness I say: Rest in peace, my friend, rest in peace.
Rachael Maskell is the Labor MP for York Central
https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/23768322.there-no-bed-last-night-earth-says-york-mp/?ref=rss “There was no bed for him on his last night on earth,” the York MP said