Homeless in Glasgow: The return of society

In the final part of an unmissable series, John-Paul Clark reflects on the biggest lessons from his homelessness journey

MY own JFK moment arrived on 19 July 2010 with David Cameron's Big Society speech.

His promise of agency in order that people needn't turn to the government was doublespeak for another Tory onslaught upon the working classes. I spat his words back at him but could never have imagined the impact it would have upon my own life.

George Osborne had announced his austerity budget a month beforehand and it was very clear that they were aiming to get themselves out of their own deregulation-induced mess by raping public services and the welfare state. The poor would pay for the mistakes of a privileged few.

READ MORE: Homeless in Glasgow – the full series

Well, not me. I was solid in the conviction that I would absolutely not be contributing. Fuck their foodbanks and voluntary work and fuck David Cameron. Why should I donate food to the state for them to ration out to the poor?

This stance lasted even after I found myself homeless in 2016. Throughout the year I spent many a day not eating anything at all and refused to visit foodbanks. After losing my home and everything else, principles were about all I had left.

However, when my homeless stint ended I was more in need than ever and I reached out to discover that there was such a thing as society. Not ‘the big society’ Toryism, but an army of socialist heroes running foodbanks and homeless charities who dedicate their lives to helping the marginalised.

These people were not inspired by the call for a big society but instead mobilised because of the damage being inflicted upon the working classes by austerity Britain.

If it were not for them I would still be walking around on wooden floorboards and sleeping on a couch. My new home is beyond anything I could have asked for, but when I moved in it was completely bare with no carpets or furniture.

Throughout the year I spent many a day not eating anything at all and refused to visit foodbanks. After losing my home and everything else, principles were about all I had left.

Initially I was told to apply to the council for a Community Grant. This grant had been spoken of to me throughout my homeless spell as something significant and perhaps as a reward of sorts for everything I had gone through. I was looking at it as recompense for the grossly inflated rent the council had been charging me for its temporary accommodation.

I filled out the application for the grant on the day I collected my keys from the housing association on 22 May 2017. It would take three weeks for a decision to be reached so I tried to get on with things until then. The day after I moved into my flat my mother hired a van and I went around Glasgow collecting bits and bobs I had arranged in the weeks beforehand. 

At the end of that day I had a dining table, a bed frame, a fridge and a couch. The couch doubled up as my sleeping quarter and at least meant I needn't spend another night lying on the wooden floorboards. However, I was still living the same routine as when I was homeless and would venture out at the start of the day and go to the library rather than sit staring at the walls. 

My place on the masters course at university had been kept open for me so I got down to organising that in those initial days and also doing some writing for the blog.

A couple of weeks after moving in I was sat in the library feeling pretty disconsolate. The homeless ordeal was over but I was still sanctioned by the DWP and waiting desperately for the grant to come through from the council. 

However, when my homeless stint ended I was more in need than ever and I reached out to discover that there was such a thing as society.

The blog was about the only positive in my life at that juncture, although that was coming to an end, too. As I sat there staring at my laptop a notification popped up on Twitter from Angela Haggerty at CommonSpace. They were apparently interested in publishing the blog.

Hearing this news was like receiving a massive injection of serotonin and lifted me out of my depression instantly. Maybe I did actually have some talent after all. I hadn't had a byline in years and this was very much the jolt my sagging career hopes needed. We arranged a meeting for the following week. 

In the meantime, I had managed to get some paint and got down to decorating. The previous occupant of my new home was an old lady who had papered the whole flat with garish flowery wallpaper and it wasn't becoming of a single-man. 

The blog was on hold until I met CommonSpace so I had nothing to do with my days but paint. Within a few days I had it finished and was beginning to see the potential in my new pad. Some furniture and it would be fit for a king.

And then the letter from the council arrived. Throughout the years I had heard of people getting these resettlement grants before. The standard was about a grand but I had heard of folk getting more, and in fact I knew someone who had recently got out of jail and had been awarded £1,800. 

Not ‘the big society’ Toryism, but an army of socialist heroes running foodbanks and homeless charities who dedicate their lives to helping the marginalised.

I wasn't budgeting for that much but also wasn't prepared for the final slap in the face from the council. It decided to give me no money and instead I was to receive items of furniture that it deemed a necessity.

The things it deemed a priority were farcical and all in I got about £300 worth of items and would still be living with no carpets, washing machine or a cooker. Coincidentally, the council had been profiting by £300 every month with the £700 a month rent it had been charging me in the temporary accommodation. 

All in I would estimate it profited by over £2,000 from my eight-month spell in that bedsit. 

The items from the council were duly delivered toward the end of June and I decided to try and look for some closure and forget it because I was in danger of lashing out and doing something silly.

Even today, months after moving in, the mere thought of Glasgow City Council riles me. Sure, the housing crisis is not its fault but it has created a homeless system by design that actually punishes the fallen. Journalistically, I hope to put them to the sword in the near future.

These people were not inspired by the call for a big society but instead mobilised because of the damage being inflicted upon the working classes by austerity Britain.

It was then I started to consider other avenues. On Twitter I had connected with various charities previously mentioned and I decided to abandon my stance on big society and asked them for help, namely North East Foodbank and Help 4 the Homeless. 

Between them they helped me get all the items required for a comfortable home. These people, and anyone who donates to them, really are the lifeblood of society today.

Rather than create a big society of neoliberal apologists, the Tories have reinvigorated the society that Thatcher told us doesn't exist. The working classes are mobilising again as evidenced by the Scottish independence movement and Jeremy Corbyn's Labour.

If they can become the vanguard of the left wing, and agitate for real issues like social housing and low wages, then the future on these islands could be very bright.

One can only hope that the lasting ramifications of this era of the Tories will not be as severe as the last. Thatcher's deregulation of the banks led to the banking crisis 20-odd years later and her right-to-buy policy that drove social housing onto the private market is culpable for the housing crisis.

If it were not for them I would still be walking around on wooden floorboards and sleeping on a couch.

There is a narrative today that likes to say that we are all one pay cheque away from being homeless but this is entirely false. With the lack of social housing every working-class person is vulnerable. 

My own situation was precarious from the age of 17 and when I returned to higher education in my 20s it became really perilous. After running into rent arrears while at college I moved in with my father but he passed away as I was about to start university and I was forced to take up the first of many short-term leases in private lets.

I was very close to landing up as homeless a few times while at university but thankfully it never came to that. However, my studies did suffer as I shuttled from one flat to the next and I would actually go as far to say that this year is the best prepared I have ever been for any year of my studies.

That's not to say I have been hitting the books all summer. I finished furnishing and decorating my flat toward the end of July and then hit a slump, of sorts. After scratching, clawing and fighting for over a year I suddenly felt deflated and wasn't sure what to do with myself. I was lashing out at people a lot and couldn't understand why.

Thanks to all who have stuck it out and read this series. Your kind words and encouragement are more valued than you can imagine.

Now, a month later, it is obvious that I needed some time to reflect and process everything that had happened to me in the last year or so. It's hard not to be bitter about the whole thing but all I can do is channel my efforts into helping others and holding the council and government to account through my writing.

I'm stronger for it but not sure I could go through it again and exit with my faculties intact. I write this morning full of optimism and biding my time until university starts in two weeks. This should be the final step in my attempt at social mobility and, all going well, this time next year I will be entering
into the career I have strived so long for.

Thanks to all who have stuck it out and read this series. Your kind words and encouragement are more valued than you can imagine.

Peace, land and bread.

Picture: CommonSpace

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Comments

Fiona McOwan

Thu, 09/07/2017 - 21:36

John-Paul I have really enjoyed your writing and am sorry this is your last blog but delighted for you that you have your flat and that you masters place at Uni is still open and just want to wish you all the best for your future.

macjim

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 07:54

I concur with Fiona’s comments... best wish.

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