Newcastle Arts Centre, 20th March - 24th April, 2020 POSTPONED
Preview 21st March 1pm - 3pm CANCELLED
Government figures for autumn last year show that there were 4,266 people sleeping rough in England, but this statistic has been described by homeless organisations as ‘not being fit for purpose’ and a huge underestimate. But even these figures show an increase in rough sleeping of 141% on 2010. A recent BBC investigation suggested that the true figure is closer to 25,000; in Newcastle 224 people were recorded sleeping rough at least once over the past year.
Rough sleeping is the most visible sign of homelessness, but it is just the tip of the iceberg. There are also the ‘hidden homeless’ - those sleeping in B&B’s, shelters, hostels, staying with friends or relatives, sofa-surfing with strangers, sleeping in cars or the countryside. The homeless charity Centrepoint estimated that this winter 22,000 young people had approached their local council for help because they were homeless or at risk.
Perhaps the homeless have become so ubiquitous that we no longer question the morality of a system that creates a situation where people live on the streets. And we accept it as the norm. Austerity cuts to vital mental health and drug and alcohol rehabilitation provision, welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax, cuts to housing benefit and benefit sanctions are all fuelling a homelessness crisis. This has been compounded by the roll out of Universal Credit, soaring private sector rents and a chronic shortage of social housing.
A study by the charity Crisis found that rough sleepers were almost 17 times more likely than the average person to have been a victim of violence, and 15 times more likely to have suffered verbal abuse. Eight out of 10 rough sleepers reported being victims of a range of crimes and antisocial behaviours, from mugging and intimidation to being hit, kicked, threatened or urinated on. One in 20 rough sleepers reported having been the victim of a sexual assault while homeless. An estimated 726 homeless people died in England and Wales in 2018 - a 22% rise from the year before - at an average age of 44.
One rough sleeper in Newcastle had been mugged at knife-point for a five pound note he had tried to hide in his shoe. Another has had his sleeping bag stolen multiple times. A scalding take-out coffee was thrown over Liam as he sat on Northumberland Street. Paul was invited back to a flat, then thrown out of a second floor window onto concrete, resulting in multiple life threatening injuries.
These photographs were taken in Newcastle upon Tyne between November 2017 and March of this year.
“Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers. The question of what to do with the feelings that have been aroused, the knowledge that has been communicated. If one feels that there is nothing 'we' can do - but who is that 'we'? - and nothing 'they' can do either - and who are 'they' - then one starts to get bored, cynical, apathetic.”