At first I smiled as I noticed the old couple, rucksacks on backs. Walking sure is on the rise in Sheffield in these health-conscious times, I thought. Then I looked again, and something in their tired body language made me realise they were carrying far too much. They were homeless, wandering like refugees on our city streets. I may have been wrong, but homelessness is creeping up – marginalisation in an unfair system.

As the army retreats from the sands of Afghanistan, it can rely on Britain’s military covenant. It is a promise that anyone who takes the King’s shilling will later receive at least a few pennies to feed them, or at worst their widows and children. Tens of thousands leave the military annually, many with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), unable to cope, and some end up sleeping rough.

There is no covenant to protect the population as a whole. Government seems to operate less on principles of equality or concern for the marginalised than on fear. Wars in particular revealed the shocking ill health of British city dwellers over the last century. This (and the occasional riot) moved the reluctant rich towards creating a welfare state on the reasoning that a hungry man is an angry man. It was all right until the 70s, after which it’s been relentlessly burned back like a rainforest over an oilfield. Only the hacked-off stump of a benefit system remains and some are left to beg on our streets, an issue left to non-governmental organisations driven by simple compassion.

Sheffield charity the Cathedral Archer Project (CAP) was formed in dark days under the previous Conservative government. For a quarter of a century it has supported homeless and vulnerable people towards a fulfilling life. People like Connor, who left the army traumatised. His friend had been shot in the head. With the project’s help he has returned to education and accommodation and there’s a new relationship in his life. CAP helped him to get to the point of coping. ‘Homeless’ isn’t just sleeping rough. It can include sofa surfing, hostels, B&Bs or squats. Vulnerability means the bottom falling out of life. The causes are multiple and it could happen to me or you. As Sheffield-based journalist and blogger Economic Survivor puts it, over half the population is “two or three missed paychecks away from the street”.

CAP helps with immediate needs through to longer term support, from food, showers, laundry and medical help through phone and internet access, classes, workshops, social activities and signposting to support services. Their carol service on Friday 12 December (12.30pm) at Sheffield Cathedral is an open invitation, as is the request for donations to continue their good work. Their website is below.

Anyone with personal experience of today’s welfare state knows how draconian, cruel and inflexible it’s become. Forget the press stereotypes. People are having it tough. The homeless are “the people you step over when you are coming out of the opera,” joked Sir George Young, 6th Baronet, former minister and Leader of the House of Commons. Case closed. It’s time for Britain to put ordinary human wellbeing before the great god of economic and military growth.

archerproject.org.uk
economicsurvivor.me.uk
alt-sheff.org

LISTINGS

Hack Circus Christmas Party
14 December | 6pm-midnight | Showroom Cafe
Hack Circus is a magazine designed in Sheffield about inventive thought and subversive technology. There’s also a fortnightly podcast with various subjects and guests, and a theme tune by local Joseph Thorpe. This is the launch of the fifth quarterly magazine issue. Expect unique entertainment, inspiring artwork and excellent company.
hackcircus.com

Christmas Lights On Yer Bike
12 December
Sheffield Friday Night Ride is a legendary open invitation bike ride around the city. Each month a different theme is chosen and planned by experienced and friendly cyclists. Dust the frost off your bicycle and join them for the sparkling December outing, entitled Christmas Lights IV. Full details on the website.
sfnr.org.uk

Alt Sheff