There were stirrings of discontent in Sheffield when the astonishing sight of Tent City appeared this autumn, amid the concrete jungle of slowly redeveloping Park Hill Flats.

We’ve all noticed the rise in homelessness. Shivering, huddled masses creep nightly into any alcove that offers shelter from the elements. A caring young man called Anthony Cunningham formed L.I.F.E. (A New Beginning) to take direct action with accommodation in a growing number of tents. This created both attention and sanctuary, a temporary near-sanity away from dangerous life on the streets.

These flats are only partly redeveloped. Most still stand empty, like thousands of other properties. As resident Jan Dobbernack says, “Park Hill is a symbol for previous attempts to create a just society, with decent living conditions and housing for everyone. It is shameful that we need the Tent City to remind us of this history.” When the camp began, empty balconies and walkways of Park Hill Flats, where people had been sleeping, were hurriedly boarded up. Resident Rosie Huzzard, in solidarity with the campers, says this smacked of social cleansing.

There’s a large, shadow demographic of homeless or precariously housed people in our city. In the maelstrom of a personal hell, it’s no surprise that people with problems gravitate to welcoming alternative spaces like Tent City. Among these are some who would receive mental health care in a kinder world. Community centres, churches and squats know this scenario. Capitalism excludes the poor from a social life among its glistening gilded palaces of entertainment. In our messed-up world, the investment decisions of the ultra-rich elite can throw countless lives into terminal decline across the world.

There’s an echo here of the Occupy camp outside Sheffield Cathedral, protesting at the cruel austerity programme imposed after speculator-gamblers crashed the finance industry’s pack of cards, not long ago. Now the situation’s worse. Shelter estimates that 120,000 children will be homeless this Christmas, and the same people are still in charge. Boris Johnson pledged to end rough sleeping in London by 2012. Instead it doubled. Until last month, he was arguing over sharing use of a ‘grace and favour’ home. Just to be clear, that’s not office space – it’s a free-to-use 115-room mansion and grounds, with entertainment costs paid for by taxpayers. It’s another world for some, but it’s got to change.

The Big Issue was launched to help homeless people 25 years ago. Its name is appropriate. As you get into a warm bed tonight, think about how much of your life would just stop without a roof over your head. Home’s a basic human need, even more so in the cold Sheffield winter. Having to sit and beg for food money isn’t a lifestyle choice, it’s a disgrace in the 21st century.

City authorities did take notice of Tent City, moving the final residents into accommodation on the same day that Sheffield hit the headlines for Amey’s controversial night-time operation to cut down trees on Rustlings Road. A good day to bury bad news?

The camp has gone, but homelessness has not. The volunteer group is now working on a night shelter and day hub, and many other Sheffield charities exist to ease the pain. Please help if you can with things like sleeping bags, toiletries, food, money, and by speaking to homeless people as human beings. It could just as easily be you or me.

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Redback Charity Gig
Fri 16 Dec | 8pm | Crookes Social Club, Mulehouse Road, S10 1TD
Get your dancing shoes on to support the busy charity ASSIST, which helps to support refused asylum seekers who are left destitute by our government. Cheery 8-piece Sheffield band Redback play a lively selection of Motown, classic soul and pop.
assistsheffield.org.uk

Sheffield Needs A Payrise March & Rally
Sat 17 Dec | 1pm | Devonshire Green
Millions are struggling on poverty pay rates. Come and join workers and unionists pushing for a £10 per hour real living wage and a decent future. Organised by Sheffield Trades Council. #Sheff4Ten

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