Never blog when angry, wise advice…I’ve sat on this all day and I’m now ready to share.
I wrote yesterday about the “Hipod” or Homeless pod that had been placed by a socially minded individual at “Jubilee Gardens” Belfast (Most loose use of the word garden I’ve ever seen). Paid for and built entirely by themselves…It is a park bench that doubles as providing shelter for rough-sleepers, with added features of a padded floor, solar panel charging for an fm radio, phone charger & a heating element…built by somebody who knows what they are doing. Over 20,000 shares from the Daily Mail story covering the pod, and requests from interested parties from across the globe who want to potentially build their own for their community…the council have removed this when in fact, Invest NI should be getting in touch and asking “how can we help?”
Today, this issue did what many others have failed to do, united the parties…PUP (Julie-Ann Corr Johnston) Sinn Fein (Niall Ó’Donnghaile) and Alliance (Emmet McDonough-Brown). All agreed that the homeless pod deserved further discussion, contributed to the wider debate and had the potential to actually help people in need. All seemed to agree that a working group may be useful on the subject. How sad it is that when a flag is removed from a building, there is a civil uprising, when a shelter for the less fortunate in society is removed…a couple of disgruntled tweets and an angry blog. For those unaware, here is what the homeless pod looks like.
It was in place over the christmas holiday period and was removed for maintenance by the creator, then returned on Sunday 18th January where it remained until this morning. Belfast City Council workers removed it. I asked for an explanation and this was what I received:
“Belfast City Council regularly works with other organisations in relation to tackling social problems across the city but our priority in this instance is to ensure the health and safety of people using this pod. It has been removed until we can consult with its owners.
The pod was placed close to a busy thoroughfare and while well constructed is made of wood which raised concerns about combustible material and the potential for being set alight, it was not fixed in position and had a number of finger traps which could cause injury to users , inquisitive passersby or people moving the unit.
We are keen to talk to the owners of this pod and ask them to contact us so we can discuss the issue with them.”
So, the reasons it were removed:
- To consult with the owner
- Because it’s by a busy thoroughfare
- Made of Wood
- Not fixed in position
- Finger Traps
Where to begin…
I’ve been in regular contact with the owner since before it was in place, they tell me that no attempt was made by the council to reach them until after it was removed today, there is contact information clearly on the side of the box…
“Jubilee Gardens” is not what anyone would call a busy thoroughfare, in fact the box itself is in a corner away from any part that someone could have reason to use, it isn’t blocking a footpath, the pavement which is 15ft or more away isn’t even particularly busy…
I’d like to share some pictures with you all…
The benches in the above photo are also from Jubilee Gardens (how proud must the queen be that these are the fixtures and fittings of a park named in honour of her jubilee..) They are in a poor state of decay, with boards missing, exposed metalwork, easily splintered and just generally rotten. The brickwork is from a raised garden framing the edge of “Jubilee Gardens” where the wall is in imminent risk of collapse, quite clearly some finger traps there… And just across the road is the old transport union building, boarded up with plywood and haphazardly covered with some fencing, to prevent people from gaining access for shelter or any other reason. But yet this homeless shelter, which by anybodies definition, was the most well kept, health & safety conscious item in Jubilee Gardens. Whilst also providing a service. Do you think people go to jubilee gardens to eat their lunch and sit on those benches? The area is notorious as a gathering point for problem drinkers and rough sleepers, the church nearby attempts to help these people but there is only so much someone can do…which is where the Hipod came in.
Belfast streets are littered with various pieces of street furniture, from A boards publicizing cafés, bars and tourist bus companies to giant painted cows and pianos left for anyone to play, even ghost bikes affixed to railings in memory of cyclists who tragically died on the road.
So clearly the council have no issue with items being left on the streets. Admittedly the homeless box had not obtained the correct permissions, but is that really what the council wants to start with? The day after The Daily Mail feature the story of Belfasts civic ingenuity for helping rough sleepers, our council remove something that A: can immediately help, B: cost society nothing and C: inspired debate around the wider issue of homelessness. Of course it is important to acknowledge that there are groups trying to help those who have to sleep on the streets, and if that was a fool-proof plan, then this homeless pod would have been absolutely useless…it wasn’t though, it was being used. BBC News interviewed a man who had used it only the night before and came back to get some rest again to discover it was gone. If the council is going to start applying the letter of the law perhaps they could start with the giant screen in the gardens of city hall that plays to the city…
Belfast City Councils rules of management for providing entertainment states that:
“13:19 – Loudspeakers broadcasting to the street or in the near vicinity of the place are prohibited”
But of course having a giant screen and showing news, sports and movies is good for the city, it attracts people…a homeless shelter does not. Perhaps its better to have homeless people staying in these sorts of places…
This is perhaps more in keeping with the stereotype. Perhaps Belfast City Council would rather the homeless looked homeless, rather than it appearing to those tourists who visit the attraction that is “Jubilee Gardens” that we put our homeless people in little boxes out of the rain and the elements…
So the council workers removed the homeless pod and are storing it until they can get in contact with the owner, until then, any rough sleepers who wanted to avail of the box are unfortunately going to have to go back to the doorways. I remember when I was managing a City Centre pub, I used to keep my bins (the big 1100l containers) out on the street in an alleyway, then a studious council worker came and told me I couldn’t any more…I tried to reason by explaining that they quite literally were in nobodies way, I was told that I had to find a way to bring them inside because “Bins like that attract homeless people”…so of course the solution is to remove the attraction, not to solve the issue of homelessness. Any reasons the council produce for removing this are able to be explained away as unreasonable, except of course the issue of it not having gained permission…and if helping the homeless is where we as a society begin clamping down on people who ignore permission… can I suggest that next we move onto Twaddell?
Although if you remove the illegal items from Twaddell then you might annoy someone who can actually do something about it, who sticks up for the homeless these days…
And in other news, Belfast City Hall is hosting a “Homelessness: have your say!” event on Saturday 31st January between 2pm & 5pm, hosted by UTV’s Judith Hill. I’ll be there and I’ll definitely be having my say, that’s if the council don’t take it away first. As the plaque on the side of the box states “you may need it someday” perhaps the council workers are so secure in their jobs that they know better.
Kris tweets ferociously as @belfastbarman and runs an associated site, www.belfastbarman.com where he occasionally opines his views. He lived abroad for a while and as such, feels he will never really ‘get’ this place. Formerly a barman, he regularly broke the cardinal rules of, “No politics or religion in the pub,” as such, he turned to writing. Previously a stand up comedian and an animal crematorium assistant, now works in marketing and is a recently joined member of the Alliance Party.