Homeless people in Greater Manchester and Stockport have handmade the first history of British homelessness, which had its debut at the Houses of Parliament this week. The Homeless Library is supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund and partnered with The Wellspring, The Booth Centre, and Bury Art Museum.
Stockport MP Ann Coffey, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, opened the exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall of the House of Commons at 3pm on May 24, 2016. The exhibition will be on display in Parliament for the rest of the week and then go on to public exhibition at the Southbank Festival of Love, 9 July-18 September and will tour venues in NW England.
The Homeless Library has been made by local homeless people and opens up previously untold stories of the lives of homeless people through interviews, artworks, poems and handmade books. This unique and unprecedented history of British homelessness has been devised by arts organisation arthur+martha.
Ann Coffey said:
“This project is both a piece of history and an art piece. I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything like it before. It’s beautiful. This is not only a history of facts, the very material of each of these handmade books in The Homeless Library tells its own story. It is full of emotion. I feel I can reach out and touch it.”
“These are fascinating stories that need to be heard. Being heard is something that everybody needs, it makes us a society. Maybe these books are something we can all learn from – and maybe we can help the storytellers.”
Many homeless people live and die as ‘invisibles’. When they die their very existence sometimes leaves no mark. This project opens up an untold chronicle, that exists off the pages of official history books.
Instead, it is a history based on conversations: people’s descriptions of their own lives, as told by contemporary homeless people and also older people who witnessed homelessness from the 1930s onwards. Along with interviews, there are artworks and poems.
PHOTO TO LEFT: Ann Coffey opening the Homeless Library exhibition at the House of Commons with (l to r) Jonathan Billings (Manager, The Wellspring), Marcus Jones MP (Housing Minister) Lawrence McGill, Kenny Weaver, Lois Blackburn (Co-Director, arthur+martha CIC);
PHOTO TO RIGHT: (l to r) Philip Davenport (Co-Director of arthur+martha CIC), Lawrence McGill (project participant) and Ann Coffey MP
Photography by Paul Jones.
I was really pleased to open the new offices of a wonderful charity based locally which works with street children in Africa and Brazil.
It felt particularly timely to visit Retrak in Cheadle Hulme as the plight of vulnerable unaccompanied refugee children has been in the headlines recently.
Last year Retrak helped over 800 street children return safely to family and community settings.
As the chair of the All Party Group on Street Children, I was interested to hear how the journey begins for a child who ends up on the streets. Retrak’s research shows poverty is one of the key triggers.
It is hard to imagine how children who start out in life with such positive, nurturing and beautiful names such as “Gift” and “Precious” end up on the streets vulnerable to violence, abuse, sexual exploitation and hunger.
Millions of children across the world have no legal identity so they cannot access education, welfare, health services or ever legally work. We must ensure that every child has a legal identity. The life of a street child is short and brutal and these are also the children that get trafficked thousands of miles to Europe to endure the horrors of systematic rape and abuse.
Retrak reaches out to children who have no one else to turn to and helps them rebuild their lives and reintegrate back into their families and communities or new families. Other support Retrak offers includes overnight shelter, education and medical services. This help is vital to give children the chance of a decent life in their own communities.
PRESS RELEASE FROM ANN COFFEY MP
Higher numbers of vulnerable Stockport young people could be made homeless and many families on modest incomes will face big rent increases because of the Government’s pernicious new Housing Bill, Ann Coffey MP warned today.
Ms Coffey said cuts in Housing Benefit for single people under 35 years would particularly hit care leavers because they often do not have the alternative of moving in with supportive family and friends if rents become too extortionate.
She also warned that plans to increase rents for those families earning above £30,000 per household under a new “Pay to Stay’ scheme could be a disincentive to work.
Speaking during the report stage of the Housing and Planning Bill she said capping housing benefit for single people under 35 to the Shared Accommodation Rate would make it even more difficult for young people to buy a home.
She said: “Around 1,800 of Stockport Homes’ current tenants are under 35 and are receiving some level of Housing Benefit. The changes would mean that both the social housing and private rented sectors would become increasingly unaffordable and young people will be at increased risk of homelessness at a time when homeless acceptances have risen nationally by 36 per cent since 2009 and 15 per cent in Stockport over the last year.”
Ms Coffey argued that because care leavers are often vulnerable people with complex needs that can last a lifetime, they should be excluded from the shared Accommodation Housing benefit cap beyond the age of 22, the current proposed exemption age.
The Housing Bill proposes “Pay to Stay” market rents for people earning a combined household income of £30,000. Ms Coffey said that because the cost of private renting varies greatly from area to area the Pay to Stay market rents should take account of the average income of couples and private sector rents in each area so that there are no disincentives to work.
Ms Coffey said: “The £30,000 threshold is too low. A couple, both working full time at the average Stockport wage of £19,083 would have to pay a significantly higher rent than their neighbours. The rents in private rented properties in Stockport are twice those of the Stockport Homes average rent of £74.60 a week.”
“So clearly moving to the private sector would not be an option but also paying a higher rent may also be unaffordable. Therefore one way out would be to earn less money to ensure they do not meet the threshold by cutting the hours they work or even leaving a job altogether.
“Clearly it cannot be right that this would have the impact of being a disincentive for people to work the maximum amount of hours that they could. This is counter to everything the government espouses.”
She said the Bill would lead to a huge loss of affordable homes to rent and buy, which will intensify the spiral of ever higher housing costs.