Every evening that I walk home from work I see the same things: a couple sharing a sleeping bag and a few blankets out the back of Debenhams; a young girl sitting outside NatWest pleading with passers by for spare change; a dishevelled man sitting cross legged outside Buffalo reading a book.
Sometimes, I see the volunteer van, giving out fresh clean clothes, cups of hot tea, anything to make the cold winter night a little more bearable for those people that unfortunately have nowhere to go. And I literally hate myself that I can’t help.
Recently, the private firm Clearsprings Ready Homes came up with an idea on how they might be able to support these people a little better, to target those who were desperately in need of care and attention. This idea was to assign red wristbands to the asylum seekers for easier identification with aid and food. And being honest, everyone lost their collective shit.
Don’t get me wrong, I think this is an awful idea. I think it is alienating, and I think it creates a stigma and sense of separation between people who are lucky enough to have a permanent roof over their head and the people who don’t. The wristbands would do one of two things, it would either stir resentment towards these people or it would create a dreadful amount of pity. Either of these things would be the cherry on top of a pretty crap reality for anyone sleeping rough on the streets. Even refugees have have stated that wearing the band feels similar to a prison tag or a dog collar, meaning that they feel like this band makes them a secondary human to those more fortunate. One man from Cameroon likened the new bands to the expression “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”, and this is the most valid thing I’ve heard said about this situation. At the end of the day, stop making things more difficult for asylum seekers, and actually help without making it worse!
But I think it’s important to comprehend that the firm that issued the wristbands never set out to cause harm; yes they went the complete wrong way about it, but they were trying to help. They were trying to help people get food, clothes, blankets and showers, help people to feel like humans again, the same way we feel when we wake up in our nice warm beds. Which, unfortunately and ashamedly, is a hell of a lot more than I’ve ever done.
So yes, I think that branding people with wristbands isn’t a great step to making people feel more human, it’s actually sort of moving backwards rather than forwards, but they are trying to take some sort of action to help the needy on the streets.
It’s the separation of the homeless and asylum seekers from everyday people that is the main issue with poverty in the UK. Donning someone in a symbolic garment or even worse painting front doors to reflect certain ideological values does echo treatment of a certain group of people in the 1930s and ’40s, and it is vital that any attempts at helping members of society doesn’t actually hinder any good that can be done.
Of course, the idea has now been scrapped, and there has been quite the backlash following the controversy. Once again, I do think it was an unhelpful idea, but is the situation any better now? Are councils all over the UK going to stop formulating plans to help the needy just in case they say or do the wrong thing and cause a controversy?
All I know is that I am writing this article in a well-heated room with a full belly and clean, dry clothes. That’s a basic human right, and it’s what both asylum seekers and the homeless deserve too. I’m not saying I have any solutions at all for this issue, in fact I am stumped, but it’s important that we don’t forget about the people less fortunate than us, the people who quite frankly could just do with a break.