Whilst our glorious leaders at Stormont have spent the majority of the week (month…year…??) debating welfare reform in the millions and sometimes hundreds of millions, a small band of dedicated souls have been hard at work making a positive influence without the caterwauling of an army of civil servants, lobbyists, media types and other interested parties. The Common Law Ni group have refurbished the Homeless Pod and put it back in situ on Wednesday evening, right back in the forgotten corner of Jubilee Gardens that it was removed from just 16 days ago. In that time, lots has happened in the wee world of Northern Ireland, but in a small corner some talented civic-minded individuals reclaimed the Homeless Pod from Belfast City Council (Parks Department I believe…) repaired what needed repaired, reassured themselves that it both served a need and offered no risk to anybody, decorated it so that it not only provides a basic need but offers a bright focus point in a dreary urban space & provides an outreach information point for anyone in the vicinity. The ball is firmly in societies court now.
As a result of the removal of the Homeless Pod, Emmet McDonough-Brown(alliance), Niall O’Donnghaile(sinn fein) & Julie-Ann Corr-Johnston(pup) have agreed to set up a council working group on homelessness (due to have their first meeting in the coming weeks). The question is, when they do meet, will the homeless pod still be on the streets of Belfast sheltering those who require it? As outlined by myself previously, I don’t necessarily blame any government body for homelessness or rough sleeping…but that changes when a body intervenes where it isn’t required…not wanting to go over old ground again, but there are plenty of contraventions of council rules & regulations that the council doesn’t step in and sort out/remove…why then was this removed? The park it occupies is in a serious state of disrepair, with street furniture of the councils in dangerous states… So if a lesson is to be learned, it is by those in power… If members of society want to do some good, perhaps stop and have a good think about the grand scheme of things…will you get sacked for not removing the homeless pod…seems doubtful. Leave that decision to the elected representatives and I will have faith that they will do the right thing. An interesting idea actually is that the council, or a member of the council, could claim ownership of the box…it could be adopted by the council in the same way that some streets or benches have been…There are plenty of solutions available, but remember…the public are watching.
So whilst the parties have been busy running roughshod over their peers, their partners in government and anyone else that they think they can score points from…election pacts cast asunder, petitions of concern being wielded like 10’s in a furious game of legislative Go Fish…all the usual jetsam that comes with politics in Northern Ireland, another little political hot potato was being alluded to in the redecoration of the Homeless Pod
Teenage Dreams so Hard to Beat… the line that means something to everyone in Northern Ireland, it rings very true to me in this context of homelessness, and as with all art, this is very interpretable… Perhaps a particular author on Slugger might like to weigh in with her view on the artistry involved, the giving of artwork free to the city in this time of arts council budget cuts. I’ve spoken at length with the creators about the concept behind the art and to be honest, I love it. I enjoy modern art, I used to go to the Tate Modern when I wanted inspiration for stand up comedy, from watching people react to the art and each other…I’d love to be a fly on the wall whilst Joe O’Average and Billy Standard mull over the meaning behind the art. To me though, I see it as kindness being infectious. My girlfriend is a biomedical scientist and works with viruses, that’s what I see here…I see the large circle being the hub of society, the roundedness that makes up our diverse community, with the green circles being viruses being emitted from the central mass and infecting the surrounds with the idea of kindness, coming out into the community and infiltrating our civic conscious with the urge to do good, to help those we can help and to not ostracize those who we see needing help. Belfast and indeed Northern Ireland is good at “Going Viral”, with That Wee Cafe & Frostbit boy most recently taking off, what if the idea of kindness went viral. What if the idea of helping someone because you could and not because it scored points against whoever you saw as the-other-side spread?
It is 23 degrees in my living room right now as I write this after midnight…it’s 4 degrees outside and thanks to Common Law NI, someone sleeping rough tonight can get a bit of shelter, a bit of heat, somewhere more comfortable than shop front of one of Belfast’s wind-tunnel-entries. With a radio for comfort and now with the added amenity of a list of outreach organisations who can perhaps offer assistance to those using the Homeless Pod or even just those passing by or congregating in the area, after all, it is an area that is known to attract problem drinkers, being out of the way of the main pedestrian thoroughfares of the city (and not “a busy pedestrian area” as the council claimed..)
Hopefully the Homeless Pod will be there when those who need it, need it. The idea has attracted interest from across the globe, the website for the pod now has a fantastic contributing shop. You can “buy”” materials for future homeless pods, contributing the essential parts to help provide further shelters.
Inside the entrance hole to the homeless pod there is a line written for the benefit of those who see it
Grant me the wit to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change things I can and the wisdom to know the difference
Something that unifies us all, from the leaders of society standing in the marbled halls of Stormont to the forgotten rough sleepers…we can all learn something from that.
Maybe if nothing else, we can keep the Homeless Pod in place so that any politicians driving past could stop and take a peak to remind themselves of those wise words…and as a useful little side effect it can shelter someone in need.
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.