Whether it’s a mug that’s not quite facing the right way which you just have to move, a not-so-fresh t-shirt that you kick under the bed before your friends come over (there are really so many unpleasant things that we are forced to cast our eyes upon) and, from a Royal perspective, worst of all is a nauseating, bedraggled, homeless person.
Higgins, a stately phonetics professor in the film My Fair Lady, captures this elitist disgust at the forcible co-habitation with our ‘fellows’ when he tells Eliza, a paur flaur gurl, that her presence defiles the beautiful cathedral where she sits, so she must leave. It’s a cathedral. And she’s poor. What does she think she’s doing there?
The Victorians captured the same sentiment through passing several laws that combated poverty, seen as intrusive and in-your-face. The Metropolitan Police Act of 1839 meant that street musicians could be arrested for playing and the 1824 Vagrancy Act implemented the same for rough sleepers. The latter is still in force in England, and was used 1,600 times last year. ‘Really can’t they just stop BEING POOR?’ cry the privileged and comfortable aristocrats.
But with the Royal Wedding coming up, we need to bring back those good auld measures. Simon Dudley, councillor leader in Windsor and my personal hero – not really, tweeted that we have “an epidemic of rough sleeping and vagrancy in Windsor” and that he would be “asking them [police] to focus on dealing with this before the #RoyalWedding.” They’ll scare the tourists. And they bite.
And we now use even more inventive methods of ‘dealing with’ the problem of homelessness. Over one in five homeless people has been “washed,” which means that unlike previous methods of waking them up, now they shower them with hose pipes. How generous of the police to provide people seeking shelter with a free morning shower, ha ha!
But jokes aside, more serious methods have had to be put in place to prevent the visceral and scarring sight of homeless people such as putting up spikes in areas where they are known to sleep, installing bars on benches and blasting music at an uncomfortable volume. In 2013, police in Redbridge also took some of their food and sleeping bags, which had been donated by the Salvation Army.They probably sell their stuff for drugs, so we’re actually doing them a favour. And surely if we just send them away – literally with one-way tickets – they’ll disappear? It works with my little brother.
That’s really not the case. There has been a 60% rise in households living in temporary accommodation since 2010/11, with 120, 540 of them children. This isn’t something we can just brush under the carpet, chuck under the bed or send away on a train to another city. Not only is it inhumane, but it’s also impossible. For if we are a society that cuts benefits whilst housing costs rise, do not help people leaving care, youngsters in broken families and all the people that are forced through no fault of their own into sheltering in a park, the number of rough sleepers will just keep on rising. And then you’ll have to move them to whole cities designated for homeless people. This isn’t going away just because Prince Harry is coming to town.