Not proper ‘as decided by the Queen with a Cathedral and all that jazz’ status, obviously. Despite what the local council would like. Or City of Culture status which (you guessed it!) the council are also going for. Nope, Southend has gone one better, we have our first cardboard city. Whoop! Oh….
The Husband, as I’ve mentioned before, runs the local food bank / homeless drop in / poverty relief / community cafe / whatever so, despite my aspirations to wear Boden all day and let them all eat cake, I do have a fairly accurate idea of what life is like for people on the street. A few years back I went for a job at Southend Council in their homeless department and they duly informed me that once a year they walked down the High Street and counted the number of rough sleepers. Reader, no one sleeps down the High Street. You get beaten up by people coming out of nightclubs. Verbal abuse. Urinated on. Why on earth would you sleep there? People do, I now know, sleep down the beach, in the woods and one fellow showed The Husband a little while ago his home. It was a lockable toilet near the Jobcentre. Then he got kicked out of it by crack dealers so he moved into an alley. This kind of puts my problems of having a small garden into perspective.
I’m not surprised Southend has a cardboard city. When in July 2008 The Husband started volunteering at his work there were 300 registered people on their books for food bags, now it’s 5,200. At the beginning we used to argue sometimes, I would think that giving away food encouraged people to spend their money elsewhere, not to try and support themselves. Time has taught me I was wrong about that. Like with anything you may get a few people who the Daily Mail would classify as spongers but having spent time with people there I know these are very much in the minority. I do however know single parents who have been sanctioned by the Jobcentre and had all their money stopped, leaving them no way to feed their children. I know homeless people who’ve had their benefits stopped, people who’ve lost their jobs, then had their benefits removed and ended up on the streets. City boys who had nervous breakdowns and now live in tents. Ex servicemen who need the support to survive. I could go on. Maybe I should.
So I won’t be naming where this cardboard city is, because I don’t think that these people need the police, the council or the local paper popping round. I haven’t been there myself but I have it on good authority that it exists, complete with tarpaulin and roughly the same number of people living in it as the council has on its homeless figures. I have no intention for going to look for it, much in the same sense that I have no intention in coming round your house to check if you buy your food from Waitrose or Lidl’s or if you have curtains up in all your rooms. I know it’s there, that’s enough for me.
So Southend is now a big player, we have the city status some people in the borough have been trying to get for years. I doubt it’s the one that will interest those people though.