'Jersey has the opportunity to end homelessness, with lasting change that will provide inspiration elsewhere'

John Davis

By John Davis

In the lead-up to the election of a Chief Minister a few weeks back, there was a post on LinkedIn by Kate Wright (chair of The Diversity Network) with a range of questions to ask candidates about their recent experience with the marginalised in society.

While agreeing with the post, I then realised the hypocrisy of my ignorance of these challenges. Is it right to expect a politician to be across something I am not? Does democracy abrogate our social responsibility to each other?

I was surprised how, in a few weeks of reading that post, I was sitting with Tim Ringsdore and some of the team from Sanctuary Trust for an interview as a potential trustee.

The energy and passion behind the work done is contagious. With that in mind, I decided to share this experience because I was certain if I was unaware of the significant problem with homelessness in Jersey, then I am probably not alone.

Shortly after reading Ms Wright’s post, I was in London with my partner and we were walking past Grosvenor Gardens. The last time I was in the area was 2019 and it was meticulous; gardens perfectly manicured, power-washed stone, gleaming brass-plates and expensive cars lining this triangle of London.

The buildings housed lawyers, accountants and medical clinics for the elite, a stone’s throw from the back fence of Buckingham Palace.

This trip was different – starting with what appeared to be a couple of abandoned cars with flat tyres. The stone was darkened from city grime due to months, if not years, of neglect on what seemed like mostly unused offices; dusty glass panels, removed brass plates and entrances covered with cardboard for people experiencing homelessness, weeds appearing through the cracks.

The same feeling hit me from when I first arrived in London in 1995 from Sydney: first was the ubiquity of homelessness in the city, and second was the ease with which we can become conditioned to seeing homelessness. We all can. Very easily.

Generally, we are not inclined to put ourselves into physical discomfort, and even less so mentally. Unfortunately, that isn’t always a good thing. We can ignore confronting things that may upset us, therefore failing to grasp the true sense of what it means to experience homelessness.

My attempts to imagine the sense of what it would feel like was initially based on the physical; the cold and wet winter.

I went in for some in-depth imagination to consider what it would feel like as a person; I can only begin to imagine the pain. How mentally dark and lonely it must feel during those long dark nights.

Then add to that equation homeless children. Yep, we have homeless children in Jersey. How do they have anything to look forward too? Our trajectory isn’t good.

We are also seeing a changing face of the homeless; some of those in Grosvenor Square’s porches seemed to be working people, still holding it together enough to go to work. Often, the dark nights are softened by alcohol or drugs, which can then turn a bad situation much, much worse, with substance use being as much a symptom in some cases of homelessness as it can be a cause.

We have a range of charities specific to the needs of people experiencing homelessness, with the Jersey Homelessness Strategic Board overseeing Jersey’s Homeless strategy. These charities only get involved once the need arises, so surely the ultimate goal is to have no need for these charities. However, for the foreseeable, we need these bodies. We need to fund them and ensure that these last-defence lines for people remain as we see homelessness in the high street rise in the UK, which back in 2006 I never thought possible.

I don’t have a solution – but I know it starts with creating awareness by sharing this experience.

Jersey with its island status, size and close community has the opportunity to reverse this trend with lasting change that will provide inspiration elsewhere. If we put the shoulder to the wheel, across business, government and organisations, I am sure we can identify the support and infrastructure strategies to bring about much-needed solutions.

However, for now, we need to deal with the third sector’s financial needs to support those accessing services – every bit helps.

Yep, this can happen to anyone. No one who is homeless ever planned to be.

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