On a cold and wet Sunday evening a group of friends head out onto the streets of Bradford laden with bags containing sleeping bags, blankets, warm clothing, sandwiches snacks and hot drinks to give out to the people who are sleeping rough on the streets of Bradford.
Project Winter Coat was inspired after one of the founders of the group saw a picture of a children’s jacket was left on a lamp post in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that had a tag on it inviting someone to take it and use it to keep a child on the streets warm. As a result of this, a group of friends decided to get together and see if they could make a difference to those living on the streets in Bradford.
They asked for donations from their friends, neighbours and created a Facebook page and asked for donations. They were overwhelmed with the donations they were given – and the donations ranged from offerings of food to someone offering to go out and buy a whole load of brand new clothing as this person believed that just because they are on the street does not mean that they should have to wear second-hand clothes.
Offering warm clothing, food and hot drinks is only part of what they do. They speak to the homeless, whom they refer to as friends, finding out a little about them and their story. This gives their friends a feeling of wellbeing showing that someone really does care about them.
During one outing I met with Danny and Joanne (names changed to protect identity). Danny was working for a builder in the North of England when he fell from a scaffolding causing him numerous serious injuries. His employer was not insured and as a result Danny lost his job, and was put on Statutory Sick Pay and as a result it ended in him losing his job. He met Joanne whilst living on the streets and they started a relationship. Joanne ended up on the streets following escaping from an abusive family life. They had a son together, but he sadly died shortly after he was born. Joanne is pregnant again and when we saw them they were hopeful of getting a home that week as they had been promised a viewing of a house by the local authority.
Whilst Project Winter Coat were giving out donations in the cold evening air, one young lady approached us who was obviously cold as she had no warm clothing at all. She introduced herself as Toni and she was happy to tell us her story. Toni was on a life support machine for 5 months following being beaten up by her former boyfriend. When she left hospital she was placed into a women’s refuge but the bed was only temporary. When she had to leave she had nowhere to go and as a result she ended up on the streets. Toni has been on the streets for approximately 18 months and she says that she has not been offered any help to get off the streets.
Britain is the 7th richest country in the world. Despite this, as well as having a huge amount of resources and empty buildings homelessness is on the rise. This is partly due to the fact that a generation of governments have failed to build enough affordable/social housing as well as generally not enough houses being built for people to buy. Changes to the amount people can claim for housing benefits as well as the Bedroom Tax has meant that more money is being paid through Housing Benefit to landlords who often provide less than adequate housing. In Bradford alone, Shelter reported in July 2015 that there are 39 families that are living in temporary accommodation, up from 20 the year before.
Many of the people I have spoken to who are living on the streets have been failed entirely by the system, most are care-leavers who have received little or no support. One such person is Woody. Woody was put in care at the age of 10 and was sexually abused by a care worker. As a result of this he regularly ran away, but no-one thought to ask him why he was running away and he has not been offered help or support since, and so he is now living on the streets after leaving prison over a year ago for
minor crimes. Another care-leaver was Jack, he left care when he was 15 after his mum begged him to leave his care home and come home. Six months later his mum threw him out and he was on the streets. He is now 32 and has lived on the streets in stints between relationships since he was 16.
We have a safety net to help the banks when they fail, we have a safety net to help big businesses and the rich in many different forms, but where is the safety net for these people, some of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. It doesn’t have to be this way. There are enough empty properties in the UK to house every homeless person with plenty more to spare. Capitalism encourages greed and sees success in terms of accumulated wealth, which means those that fall out of this system are left with no help at all.
Project Winter Coat will be going out every Sunday evening throughout the winter giving out donations of sleeping bags and mats, warm clothing food and hot drinks with warm hearts and a smile in one of the poorest cities in the UK.
Latest blog by Project Winter Coat: https://projectwintercoat.wordpress.com/
Pictures supplied by Neil Terry Photography.
Neil is a local photographer and a campaigner against austerity , poverty, racism and war and often uses these themes to highlight what is happening in and around Bradford. Neil understands that austerity is an ideological policy that is strangling local services that many people in Bradford rely on to have a reasonable quality of life. You can see his work at neilterryphotography.co.uk or at his facebook page