The Hidden Homeless

 

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The Homeless may be closer than you think.By Jim Fischer https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimfischer/20497465

In 2007 I came close to homelessness. I had lived in a caravan on the marshes for years while working for the RSPB but was then evicted when the council was made aware that I lived in the caravan full time and therefore was breaking planning regulations. My home was towed away in front of me and my relationship with the man I was planning to marry broke down. I was taken in by my colleagues and lived in a room full of spiders with my life packed up in cardboard boxes all around me.

I was lucky, I found somewhere to rest my head while I recovered from the blow of calling off my wedding and got my life back on track. Many are not so lucky. I know how easy it is for your neatly planned life to fall apart.

 

Recently I began working at Medway Night Shelter, helping to run a voluntary service for the lucky few who we can provide a bed and food for. Out on the streets in the bitter cold many others struggle on. In the day time you see these people, the obviously homeless, sheltering from the winter winds in shop doorways, waiting out the day, being offered cups of tea and takeaways and clothes by concerned passers by.

Homelessness in the Medway towns is an increasingly obvious problem but this week I heard about the hidden homeless. I heard how at least two people I have met have no home or bed to go to. Instead they rent a desk at a shared office space and hide a sleeping bag under the desk until everyone else has left. They join a gym and use this to shower and change.

You would never know these people were homeless, it is doubtful they would classify themselves as such but are they a sign of the times?  Both these people run their own business, they are smart and enterprising and sleek and partly I want to salute them. They cannot afford to start up their business’s and pay rent so they have found a way around all that. A clever solution that cheats the system.

Are they, however, just a symptom of our failure to provide affordable accommodation? I don’t mean in the way the government would have us believe is the only way to live, buy a house, get a mortgage, tie ourselves to debt for the rest of our natural born lives. I mean, couldn’t we provide affordable accommodation by capping rents, giving incentives for people to rent out rooms in their houses, providing shared accommodation for people starting up business’s? Couldn’t we open up some of those empty homes and pubs and shops, let enterprising people renovate them and make them liveable once again? Couldn’t we make it legal for someone to live in a caravan full time, if that’s what they choose?

Instead we have a government dedicated to building houses that many people will never be able to afford and don’t want to be saddled with the long term debt of and turn a blind eye to the homeless who are right under our noses.

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Lodge Hill -Making History

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MLP

Lodge Hill, an area of woodland and scrubland on the edge of Medway is about to become famous. Famous for what depends on whether it is destroyed to make way for 5000 houses or protected because of it’s SSSI status and the fact that it houses the largest colony of nightingales in the South East.

Medway Council, who have just included it as one of the development options in their local plan, wish for the words Lodge Hill to join the likes of Twyford Down and Newbury bypass as a place where protestors gathered to fight to protect our natural places from being destroyed.

This time though the stakes are higher. If destruction of a SSSI goes ahead for development it will green light a whole raft of other proposals and render the laws which protect our countryside invalid. If Lodge Hill goes ahead then no where is safe.

But Lodge Hill could be famous for another reason. For the place where  a local authority refused to bow to the pressure from Westminster to build all over the south east and said, “No. We will drop our support for the development of Lodge Hill and concentrate housing and retail back in town centres.”

If development at Lodge Hill goes ahead it will taint Medway for generations. The area will be associated with protest and dirty politics, the roads will be clogged by cars and we will have destroyed a nightingale colony which should be something of which we are rightly proud and promote as one of the reasons to visit. Is this really the legacy that Medway Council wants?

It is time for us all to stand up and make the name Lodge Hill synonymous with a legacy of which we can be proud.

Voice your protest at the proposed development of Lodge Hill by e-mailing futuremedway@medway.gov.uk

 

 

The Ideas Man.

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My friend shows me the road to follow. photo by MLP

Some people are ideas people and some of us are executers. This is the conclusion I am coming to. I have been struggling with work on my second book, loosely titled Behind the Wall, for weeks. I came to a halt last year when I sent off three chapters to my agent who didn’t fall in love with it and suggested I needed to go away, read more novels and think about it again.

I have followed her advice but I confess to finding many modern novels a giant yawn, somehow tired with life and the stories they are trying to tell before they even begin. Still it was good advice. I learnt things from my reading but the thought of starting the book again from a whole new direction was intimidating.

Then, today, my friend turns up for coffee. Our regular Friday ritual where we analyse the world and say the stuff we truthfully think but don’t shout out loud. He casually drops into the conversation that he’s been reading a new version of The Canterbury Tales and he’s had this idea for my book. In two sentences he comes up with the most amazing concept of how I can look at the whole story from a different angle.

I sit there open mouthed. How can it be that, after months of thinking of ways to begin, he just throws out the best idea like it is nothing?

My friend is an ideas man. He throws out a million genius ideas before breakfast and another twenty before tea. He is cursed with ideas. They come so thick and fast and are all so clever that he rarely follows them through.

I am an executor. He comes up with one idea, one lightbulb idea and I wish to sit down and begin to put it into action. I can turn his idea into something. I very much hope.

Unfortunately today, I must face reality. I cannot crack on with his idea as I have to re-edit my first book, On the Marshes. A book which came out of an idea, that now I think of it, may well have been his.