Monday 6 September 2010

The Homeless Of Star Park Are Not Garbage

According to Newham council’s current Homelessness Strategy1, people sleeping on the streets is not an issue locally – in March 2008, using the previous government’s preferred methodology, there was just one rough sleeper in the borough.

Many living and working in Newham might prefer to believe the evidence of their own eyes. But for arguments sake, let’s assume this statistic is true. Now try imagining the feeling of being so desperate and impoverished that you were forced to sleep outdoors, with none of the security of a home, little prospect of finding work and facing the ever present threat of becoming a victim of crime. You’d hope a borough that, unlike places such as Westminster or Camden, has few rough sleepers would be keen to help.

Down in Canning Town, between Star Lane and Avondale Road, is Star Park and in one corner is a derelict building site. There you’ll find far more than one rough sleeper – living in shipping containers. Many are from Eastern Europe and came to this country to undertake low paid or seasonal labour dominated by private employment agencies and casual working. They have been hit particularly hard by the downturn in the economy, are unable to claim benefits, were burdened by the much-criticised Home Office Workers Registration Scheme and statistically are more likely to have suffered poor treatment in the private housing sector. Another word for this experience is exploitation. In August, the Guardian reported warnings by the charity Thames Reach that some migrants from Eastern Europe had become so destitute that they are “eating rats and drinking lethal cocktails of alcoholic handwash”.

But Newham council’s response to the plight of the exploited in the corner of Star Park has so far involved neither sympathy nor help. Instead, a council spokesman told the BBC last Thursday that the people living rough on the derelict site "had no right to be there" and that the council, in cooperation the police and immigration services, is "doing everything in its power to remove them".

Now for once, this is not just another opportunity to slam the Labour administration in Newham. I’m sure that, if asked, every Labour councillor in the borough would say that they got into politics to help those who are the most vulnerable. I’m sure that most have no idea of the plight of fellow human beings forced to living in shipping containers in Canning Town.

And I’m sure that all would argue that people in such desperate circumstances need help, rather than being swept away like garbage. I’m not wrong, am I?

1Newham Homlessness Strategy 2008-2013, page 4 [PDF]

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

I’m sure you’re absolutely right. However all those handsomely rewarded "special" Labour councillors in the borough long ago lost touch with the reality of life in Newham.
There is no Labour party in the traditional sense anymore in Newham. Instead you have a party led by Robin Wales, a man who has taken over a half a million pounds in allowances, salary and perks since he wormed his way to the top. Unfortunately Mr Wales and his team of gangsters are primarily concerned with their own personal opportunities. If this means stamping on the vulnerable and weak then so be it.
It makes me want to cry, but the truth is that last Labour government was greatly responsible for the accelerated erosion of those basic common decencies and sense of solidarity that any progressive society requires. Look around you and fear for the future - the rich, the arrogant, the powerful and the selfish are now in charge. Both in Newham and in Whitehall.

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