Shirtless and shoeless, he was bearing a cordless drill and walking up to random passersby to punch them in the shoulder or back, wherever he could reach.
The interesting thing was no one seemed bothered. They just kept their eyes front and went ahead with their business.
Thanks to the NHS and a more empathetic welfare system we tend not to see such affronting sights as part of daily reality here in the UK.
It’s the same with rough sleeping – if you walk around American cities you’ll find streets that are home to rows of tents, sometimes dozens. It seems less remarkable there and yet a startling sight for visitors unused to such scenes.
It’s a pity none of the authorities in the US have ever thought to simply remove access to the tents. But they are lacking in the mental mastery of our own great thinker Suella Braverman.
Of course, US cities do remove the tents – but they return. Braverman wants to stop third sector organisations giving them out in the first place. Why did no one think of it sooner?
It’s particularly important now. The homelessness statistics for Scotland from August show an increase in rough sleeping, which anyone who has spent any time at all in a Scottish city centre will have noticed.
There’s a man in Glasgow who has pitched a tent on Buchanan Street, just outside Sainsburys. It’s an established campsite – cones around the tent to mark the territory, cardboard signs up asking for help. There is a food delivery pannier outside – who knows what for; perhaps he’s in work, like thousands of others living below the breadline in Scotland.
Perhaps it’s just there for storage. It does rather stop the breath to see it, a person, one of our neighbours, camped in a tent in such a prominent location because, unlike America, it’s less common here.
The latest statistics show 2438 households reporting rough sleeping in the three months before the count and 1500 the night before the application. Those numbers are lower than pre-pandemic but are static from the previous year – so no improvements, crucially.
Braverman’s position, as she posted on X at the weekend, is that rough sleeping is a “lifestyle choice”. “There are options for people who don’t want to be sleeping rough,” Braverman wrote. Of course, but are they comprehensive enough? Are they well funded? What’s the state of the economy like in the first place?
She also posted that she wants a stop to those who go out “aggressively begging”, “littering” and “taking drugs” like these are three equal issues. Removing tents does not magically remove these issues.
She also mentions streets being “taken over” by tents and shoehorns in a little racist dogwhistle about foreigners sleeping on the streets.
The hyperbole is mortifying It is reminiscent of the attempts to stop small boats crossings by making it illegal for the RNLI to rescue those in peril by criminalising anyone who “helped” a person arriving in the UK in this way. That is, not people smugglers but those genuinely assisting people in desperate need of help.
It’s certainly one way to tackle problems: allow people crossing in small boats to drown. Remove shelter from those sleeping rough and allow them to freeze to death. I’m sure there’s a word for it.
Scottish politicians talk about Scotland’s success in eradicating rough sleeping during the pandemic, which is correct in principle but not quite in practice.
Additional funding was allocated to provide hotel accommodation to bring people indoors but not everyone wants to be brought indoors. In Glasgow, for example, there were five people who continued to sleep outside. In Edinburgh the number was around 20.
They could have been accommodated but will have had their reasons for turning down that option. Charities will have done everything possible to support those folk to come in.
In one case, a man was offered a hotel room with empty rooms on either side to give him a feeling of space and privacy. He tried it for a night but it wasn’t for him.
To that degree, there is an element of choice. But it’s not a lifestyle choice – and there’s a fair distinction between those two things.
If you have, say, had a horrendous experience of the care system and have endured abuse and now live with post-traumatic stress and mental health issues, you are making a choice, sure, but for awful reasons.
It was also reported this week that Braverman wants to make it tougher to access benefits, using more stringent tests to push people trying to access disability benefits into work.
Will Braverman last the week? Her opinion piece – unsanctioned by No.10 – in yesterday’s Times criticising the Metropolitan Police over its handling of a planned pro-Palestinian march on Armistice Day has led to calls for Rishi Sunak to sack her.
It’s highly unlikely he has the backbone. She is a useful henchman for Rishi Sunak too, in that she plays to the worst of the Conservative base while keeping him at a discreet distance.
But it makes him look weak, nothing else. And where, really, is the audience for this? Are there really so many people who want to seize small comforts from homeless people that this is a vote winner? I imagine that’s naive but don’t want to believe it so.
You can wax lyrical about a lack of compassion and an overdose of cruelty but it is largely just complete idiocy from Braverman. And the woman is not an idiot, no matter what you think of her, so she clearly believes the people she is pitching to are.
Mate, if folk are living in tents on the street – that’s no one’s fault but yours. It’s not a lifestyle choice, it’s a political choice, and that’s on the bold Suella and her ilk.