Crisis at Christmas

James Huxley Beavis tells how cold, hunger and societal indifference left him feeling vulnerable and dehumanised, as he recalls his eight days spent without a home this Christmas

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This Christmas, James Huxley Beavis, went homeless for 8 nights in London. The Biomedical Science student from the University of Warwick, set out with no money, phone, or contact with his family. In response to his experience, James’ Supporters have donated more than £25,000 for the homeless charity Crises.

“The most unpleasant encounters involved getting bottles thrown at me and the lack of recognition from others whilst begging. Not even a movement of eyes to get you out of their direct vision but a total 90 degree turn of the head, if you’re not in their world then you’re not a problem, and the same goes for society. It’s the most dehumanising experience. Dogs are treated better.”

“I had bottles thrown at me, was rained on. People have tried to fight me. I’ve had to eat out of bins and I am extremely cold, wet, lonely, hungry and spend every night alone in fear of being attacked…”

James recorded his experience, posting the videos via Youtube, and was interviewed by the BBC. His hashtag #homelessforchristmas went viral on Twitter. In one video James revealed, “this is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. I have had bottles thrown at me, been rained on, people have tried to fight me, I’ve had to eat out of bins and I am extremely cold, wet, lonely, hungry and spend every night alone in fear of being attacked.

“I slept homeless due to a lack of understanding around such a key issue, and a lack of funds of funds for a struggling charity. I’d like to share a view into what it is like to live without a home. A life with little support, prospects or a foreseeable way out of a vulnerable situation. My point in doing this, is to spread awareness of homelessness, to change peoples attitude towards the vulnerable and to raise money for Crisis.

“Crisis opens it doors every day of the year for the homeless, but at Christmas they do something even more incredible. Volunteers from around the country gather in London and run a series of centres in schools, offices and warehouses. They provide food, shelter and a route into support throughout the year. I was lucky enough to volunteer for Crisis last year and run the marathon for them in April. I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that this is a fantastic cause.”

Crisis was founded in 1967 in response to the shocking Ken Loach film Cathy Come Home shown the previous year, and a publicity campaign led by reforming Conservatives William Shearman and Ian Macleod highlighting the plight of homeless people. Studies conducted via Crisis have revealed the average age of death for homeless people is 47. Nearly a third of the deaths of homeless people identified from the records were in London.

James revealed, “My hope is that people will do something to prevent homelessness in their country, their community, and their family. I also want to show that homeless people are not all addicts, beggars, nor are they people too lazy to work, but they have something to offer the world.”

The charity’s Private Rented Sector Access Development Programme funds organisations that help single homeless people find and then keep a private rented home. Their Crisis Skylight Centres offer housing advice to help people find and keep a decent rented home. These centres also offer education, training and employment. In the last year 4,040 homeless too part in a learning activity and 1,204 qualifications were awarded.

By the end of 2013, Crises hopes to complete its goals of creating inspirational centres in cities round the UK engaging and up-skilling homeless people and bringing volunteers and clients to the centre of the organisation. The charity is working towards permanent housing solutions which sustain and maintain formerly homeless people in homes they can call their own and extending thier reputation as, “an organisation challenging the circumstances that lead to homelessness, providing and advocating influential, innovative, and cost-effective solutions for single homeless people.”

In one video posted on Youtube James ays, “This is the some footage leading up to the worst night of my life.. It includes going through bins, washing in Mcdonalds. a trip to the savoy and getting woken up by prostitutes. I only have one night left on the streets.. PLEASE PLEASE HELP ME..”

James told me, “Students can start challenging the stigma that is attached to homelessness. Make an effort with the homeless in their community. They can look at Crisis’ petitions and sign them. And push for the same rights for the English Homeless community as the Scottish.” Recent legislation in Scotland aims to end homelessness, entitling anyone homeless through no fault of their own, to accommodation.

The new legislation was passed unanimously in December under the Homelessness (Abolition of Priority Need Test) Order 2012, and should provide 3,000 more people a year the right to settled accommodation. The deputy first minister has also just announced £300,000 will be directed over the next two years to help councils avoid homelessness. And all this help is working: official figures from February 2012 have revealed the number of homeless people in Scotland is at its lowest for a decade.

But for England government statistics reveal the numbers of those sleeping rough is rising. This year the number classified as homeless in England has jumped by 14%. According to CHAIN, 5,678 people slept rough at some point in London during 2011/12, which is an increase of 43 per cent on the previous year’s total of 3975. Many have one or more support needs – 47 per cent alcohol,  29 per cent drugs, 43 per cent mental health. The proportion of rough sleepers with no support needs has risen to 24 per cent, compared to 17 per cent in 2010/11.

In England, women make up 30 per cent of clients of homelessness services. Interviews with homeless women conducted by Crisis revealed over 20% became homeless to escape violence from someone they knew, with 70 per cent fleeing violence from a partner.

The homeless charity Shelter has identified a number of different personal and social factors which contribute towards people becoming homeless. These may include drug and alcohol misuse, lack of qualifications, debts, poor physical and mental health. A family breakdown, or sexual and physical abuse in childhood or adolescence may contribute. Involvement in an institution such as care, the armed forces, or prison has also been highlighted.

Shelter says, “Sadly, many people view homelessness as the result of personal failings, and consider that if the economy is going well, there is no excuse for not getting on. But this belief is belied by the facts, which show that homelessness is caused by a complex interplay between a person’s individual circumstances and adverse ‘structural’ factors outside their direct control.” Shelter believes that funding for civil legal aid should be increased to enable those facing possession proceedings to access independent legal advice. Shelter believes that every local authority should have a tenancy sustainment service to help people with the practicalities of moving into their new home and maintaining their tenancy.

James told his supporters, “I am now home and safe. There are still thousands of people out there in the cold and wet without the ‘luxury’ of four walls. So far this project has raised almost £25,000. Please donate and give these people a shimmer of hope. The work Crisis does is vital and saves lives.” James says he hopes his experience gets “students talking and treating the homeless community in a positive manner.”

Click here if you would like to donate.

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