Monday 7 November 2016

Government creates more homeless people.

 Today the government's cap on welfare benefits comes is into force.  The government's own Department of Work and Pensions estimates that some 88 000 families will have their housing benefits slashed by an average of £2 000 a year (that's £40 a week).  Many will be unable to pay their rent and are likely to become homeless.  It is estimated that between a quarter and half a million children are likely to be affected.  (Figures from this article by Aditya Chakraborty)

During the summer I met an artist and poet, Paul Clark,  who had been working not with, but among, some homeless people.  He had spent some time restoring a cast-iron rose window in a listed building being used as a rescue centre for homeless men. He told me: "I'd take extra sandwiches and have my lunch-break  with them; listening.  And bit by bit I heard their stories, recording their tales and memories  in the form of this poem, called: The Shadow People."

I found the last three stanzas of his poem very moving and asked Paul's permission to put them on this blog.  He readily gave his agreement but insisted that the the poem should be be seen as a whole,  the earlier stanzas contrasting the rural experience with the urban one.

So here it is: 

The Shadow People

Droning ‘cross a field, away beyond
                the hedgerow flowers
Tedding  straw  - tomorrow’s bales
                a tractor counts its hours
On wings of wind is tinny music
                snatched out of its cab
Tuneless whistling in pursuit
                is muffled grey and drab
’Longside the field a shadow weaves
                a deeper pattern of light
No puddles ripple or briers cling
                to this early being of night
Blackbird cackle, rabbits thump
                ascending skylarks sing.

It stoops, it hunches, walks upright
                unseen from brush to thicket
A shadow on the undergrowth –
                is lost and past the snicket
The driver’s eyes are locked and glazed
                As up and down he treads
His mind has gone, it’s far away
with Rosie in the snug
Humid warmth with pints of ale
and embers on the rug.
Wraith-like it waits and watches
while the roaring drone goes by
Steps in the light is gone ag’in 
                the flicker of the eye.

Beyond the stream and in the bracken
                silent, looking down
A wary roebuck , nostrils flaring
                watches on the ground.
Cupped hands stoop beside the water,
                sip, a thirst to quench
Sitting, sighs of resignation,
                fallen tree a bench.
Shadows dancing with the trees
                a dappled figure make
An old young man ill dressed and stubbled ,
                slumped his rest to take
Before tonight a barn or byre 
                will make his day complete.

The wary folk of field and forest 
                watch this wraith go by
Tractor parked the driver homeward
                ’neath a setting sky
Behind the bales planking rattles
                swinging gently stop
Shuffling through the straw to reach 
                the tractor still and hot.
Arthritic fingers  grasp the smokestack 
                wrapping tightly ‘round
Body draped warm engine cowling 
                making not a sound
Tired and lonely, bales surrounding
                sleeps and fades away

A city’s streets are all the same
                when you have nowhere to go
Lying in your doorway
                watch the ebbing human flow
Leave the city still and empty
                to the homeless and the dregs
Circulation slowing ‘til
                you cannot feel your legs
People look the other way,
                why should they have to care?
You’re not in their reality
                and so, you’re just not there
Pulling from a bottle
                in a screwed-up paper bag.

The clocks are chiming midnight
                 and you’re far too cold to shiver
Lying like a corps that’s just been
                dragged out of the river
Drunks have had their fun
                and gone off, staggering home to bed
With luck or hypothermia 
                in the morning you’ll be dead.
Feel the numbing splintering cold
                of winter through the bones
Life on the street’s a torture
                when you haven’t got a home.
A police cell or a hospital,
                 a hostel bed or morgue

For God’s sake roll on Giro day
                when nanny State will deign
The milk of human kindness
                to anaesthetise the pain.
The pain of arthritis,
                the pain of being forgot
The pain of being pissed upon
                the pain of being shot
By farmers’ rock-salt cartridge
                and kids with airguns too
The pain of cheap raw cider
                as it rots your guts right through
So when you’re up the bar next
                to get another beer
Say "Cheers!" to  oblivion, and
                the pain of being here.

Maybe someone from the government  will read this poem, or similar,  and recognise  that benefits need to be paid according to need rather than a figure to humour the tabloids.

A concurrent  approach would be to build more houses and, in the meantime,  re-introduce rent controls and so limit the windfalls accruing to buy-to-let landlords

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