Friday, 22 June 2012

Feature article

Example of a feature article on the homeless in Scotland

The plight of the homeless in Scotland has taken a U-turn in recent years, thanks to the efforts of charities like Shelter, whose support for the homeless by raising funds and lobbying the government has proved invaluable. Documented figures have shown that cases of people living rough on the streets is down by 20% from two years ago, the lowest number in a decade.  But the general public seems to remain rather malcontented by the presence of these jaded vagabonds littering the streets of Scotland. Many people have no real knowledge of the circumstances that brought several of these individuals to the desperate situations they are in, so what really causes the homeless to become homeless?

The most common factor for a person being rendered homeless is the breakdown of a relationship, such as a divorce, where the legal bills can reach thousands of pounds. The weight of stress a divorce brings can leave a person crippled emotionally as well as financially. Many people have watched their lives turn to tatters as they find their finances being siphoned off by lawyer’s fees and eventually left desolate as their family falls apart. It’s a difficult thing to recover from, as Tony Rodgers, 36 found out when he divorced from his wife four years ago and is now sleeping in an Edinburgh graveyard.

photo: Joey Lawrence
“I left my wife and was ordered by the judge to cover all sorts of expenses which, on top of my own legal fees which I was using to fight for custody of my daughter, completely bled me dry.

“When I lost that case I crumbled. I couldn’t see a way back after that. I just resigned myself to the gutter.”

Tony is just part of Edinburgh’s despondent crowd of homeless people who feel as though many people carry a misconception about the homeless, which makes their position even harder.

“Fair enough, there are some people out there who have gotten themselves into this mess, whether it’s through drugs or crime or what have you, but you’d be surprised at how many of those scabby, grotty little specimens you see dotted about the city’s pavements used to be just like you only a few years ago. Just be grateful that fortune has fared you a little better than it has me.”

Sometimes the death of a relative or carer can lead to homelessness; such was the case with Brian Johnston, 33 who lived with his adopted parents until they both died suddenly.

“I was left with no-one… They didn’t have very much money and the council took the house. I’ve been sleeping in this stairwell for the past five years.

“I’m stuck in a vicious circle - I don’t have any money to find a place to live, and nowhere will hire me because I’m homeless; I rely on volunteers from the church to feed me and clothe me which I am grateful for, but to be honest I don’t have many hopes for the future.”

Becoming homeless after returning from the armed forces, prison, or a prolonged stay in hospital is the fourth most common reason for involuntary homelessness. With regards to ex-servicemen, their treatment at the hands of local authorities seems particularly harsh; Whitehall guidance states "serving members of the armed forces and other members who live with them do not establish a local connection with a district by virtue of serving, or having served, there while in the forces".

A Liberal Democrat defence spokesman spoke about this issue in 2007, claiming that "Housing can be a real problem for those leaving the armed forces, if they have been posted frequently, they may have few local links. In any case, high house prices and long local authority waiting lists for housing give them few options."

The reality for many of these former soldiers is that they have great difficulty adjusting to normal life after serving in the military for so long; several of them suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which leads them to try and subjugate their demons through alcohol.

The most disconcerting of reasons for homelessness by far is when it is motivated through violence in the household.

According to a Scottish Government report published in 2008-09 on domestic abuse and homelessness, there were over 6,000 homelessness applications made due to violent or abusive behaviour during this period. This is especially prevalent in youth homelessness; young adults who suffer at the hands of abusive parents will often flee, preferring to subject themselves to a life of poverty rather than return home.

The number of women forced from their homes as a result of domestic abuse is also particularly high – approximately 13,500 a year for the whole of the UK. So what is being done to tackle this issue? Victims who have been driven from their home because of abuse are recommended to contact their local council for help. But in a statement made by Scottish Women’s Aid, the standard of assistance these women are being treated to would appear to be less than adequate.

“The treatment the women received from local authorities was on the whole unsympathetic and in some cases callous. This was compounded by the quality of the accommodation offers the women received, which was usually in the most unpopular and difficult-to-let neighbourhoods.

photo: Joey Lawrence
“It is almost as if the women were being further punished for being abused by having to experience a significant deterioration in their residential quality of life.”

For those living rough on the street, life is a constant battle to stay alive, and their living conditions are not made any easier when they are exposed to the constant threat of being beaten to death by groups of sociopathic youths.

This twisted hate crime is more common in the US than it is here, but it’s not unheard of, and the simple fact that such brutal attacks are being carried out at all is unfathomable.

In a report released in 2010 from the National Coalition for the Homeless, it is found that over the past 11 years, nearly one in 4 attacks on homeless people have been fatal in the US. Some of the headlines include ‘Homeless Man Beaten to Death with a Rock’ and ‘Hatchet Wielding Youth Attacks Homeless’.

So the next time you take a stroll through the park and spot a disheveled looking individual curled up on a bench, don’t turn your nose up at them and keep walking, instead take the time to think about why they are there, and perhaps you might just be compelled to buy them a pasty and wish them well.

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