“We are human: we have red blood and we cry tears. We just want to survive”
(Image: James Maloney/Lancs Live)
On a stormy, slate grey winter’s day in Blackpool, as the waves pounded the beach and rain thundered down, some of the town’s homeless individuals huddled down against doorways and lampposts.
Their despair comes as new figures show the number of deaths more than doubled over nine years, with an estimated 741 homeless people dying last year in England and Wales – 54 per cent higher than when records began in 2013, equating to two deaths a day.
And as homelessness campaigners warned of millions facing ‘one of the toughest winters yet’, LancsLive took to the streets of Blackpool to speak to homeless people in the resort; a place most people identify with as a place of tourism and fun. We asked them what life is like sleeping on the streets.
Dave, originally from Nantwich, has pancreatitis and has been in Blackpool for just three months. He tells us he’s been homeless ‘half his life’ and ‘no way’ takes drugs and drink. He is making do in a ruined caravan shared with two others, minus heating electricity or running water at the moment.
“I’ve been homeless half my life. I’m 44, and I don’t drink or do drugs, but as soon as people see a homeless person, they think you’ve chosen that. I’ve not chosen to be homeless, and if I don’t get anything to eat, I don’t get anything to eat,” he tells us.
Life in a dilapidated caravan is harsh, and about to get harsher, he tells me, because he feels ‘invisible,’ he can’t heat food up, there’s no heating, and ‘holes in the windows’. He adds: “You’re invisible when you’re homeless, there are three of us living in this caravan, with no heating, no electricity, holes in the windows; some days my fingers are blue in there, I’m that cold.”
He’s tired of the assumptions made by members of the public, who he says either ignore him or tell him to ‘get a job at the Winter Gardens.’ “But without an address, how do you get a job?”he asks, adding: “How do I say to an employer, I’ve got no fixed abode? People think you’re begging because it’s an easy option.
“Trust me – I would love to say to those people, starve yourself for four days first, then spend a week on the street; people think we choose to be here.”
Similar worries are echoed just down on the promenade by homeless man Martin, who LancsLive has chosen not to reveal the full name of, in order to protect him. Martin tells us last night was spent trying to catch a few hours’ sleep in the doorway outside one of Blackpool’s many amusement arcades.
He says: “I went there because all the lights were off. But at 2am, they put all the lights on and the music on, and said I was begging at the door.”
Martin, originally of Bootle, is now 34 and has been homeless for the last four years since falling on hard times. Like Dave, he doesn’t touch drink or drugs, but says people make assumptions that he does, adding: “If I got a pound off 25 people, that would get bed and breakfast for the night.”
The ONS figures say the number of homeless people actually fell in Cumbria last year, from five to three, but Liverpool, Hull and Tower Hamlets were reported to have had the second highest number of estimated deaths of local authorities in England and Wales, with 19 each. Meanwhile, an estimated 43 homeless people died in Greater Manchester in 2021, according to the figures from the Office for National Statistics, compared to 33 in 2020, 51 in 2019, 41 in 2018, and 50 in 2017.
Across Greater Manchester the total includes 17 in Manchester, six in Bolton, five in Wigan, three in Oldham, three in Rochdale, three in Tameside, two in Bury, two in Salford, two in Stockport, and none in Trafford, with these estimates calculated by the ONS. However, confirmed identified cases were lower.
In Greater Manchester there were 27 identified deaths of homeless people in 2021, while in 2019 there were 36, in 2018 there were 31, and in 2017 there were 41. Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “A freezing doorway, a bed in an emergency hostel, or a flimsy tent are no substitute for a home. It is utterly awful and unacceptable that two people die every day without anywhere safe to live – and this number is rising.
“Our frontline services are seeing more people who’ve run out of options, are facing homelessness, and the very real possibility of sleeping rough. This is going to be one of the toughest winters yet as so many people battle rising rents while housing benefit stays frozen.
“The government promised to end rough sleeping, but things are getting worse not better. The government must immediately unfreeze and increase housing benefit to protect people from the ravages of homelessness this winter, and to keep people off the streets for good it has to invest in building good quality, supported social homes.”
But for Dave it’s a simple matter of survival. “At the end of the day, we are human,” he says. “We have red blood and we cry tears; we just want to survive.”
- 18:20, 24 NOV 2022