The Homeless Pod is Back – Social Welfare in Action

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 PodPod Rear

 

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..)Pod Sign

 

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.

 

Pod Close Front Pod Front

 

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  • T.E.Lawrence

    Good article Barman – Well done to those involved with this initiative !

  • Dan

    I posted a comment earlier asking who will be responsible for maintenance and cleansing of this pod when some dog or cat takes a fancy to peeing in or against it….and that wasn’t deemed an acceptable comment?

    Seriously?

  • PaulT

    surely just a happy coincidence that it reappears a few days after Stephen Nolan questioned why it was removed on health and safety grounds when the DUP Youth Wing is happily stacking several hundred tyres close to two primary schools in preparation for a bonfire in 6 months time.

    Was one of a couple of good Nolan shows this week, so good Slugger had to ignore them

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    Who is currently responsible for the location rough sleepers manage to put their head down for the night?

  • “Hopefully the Homeless Pod will be there when those who need it, need it”.
    Couldn’t have put it better. Would be nice to see more than one pod, they should dot them around the city.

  • Dan

    Don’t know. That doesn’t answer my question though…..when that box reeks of cat pee, what use will it be to anyone?

  • Practically_Family

    I really wish that they hadn’t added the other “little political hot potato”.
    I’m concerned enough about the attention that has been drawn to the pod by media coverage. It’s a superb idea, but the more folk who will likely never need it who know about it, the more chance there is of trouble. I don’t know if I’m cynical, or pragmatic, but I reckon it’s only a matter of time.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    Firstly Dan,

    there is a cleaning scheme implemented.

    Secondly,

    I’m assuming you’ve never been homeless. Believe me, there are worse options available to someone sleeping rough on the street than a shelter with some cat pee about the place. Plenty of rough sleeping locations around Belfast are also coincidentally locations that drunk revellers often urinate when caught short. I said previously on BBC Talkback that it’s very easy to comment on the cleanliness of the homeless pod when you’re passing judgement from the comfort of a central heated home waiting for your dinner to cook in the oven whilst your nespresso machine pumps out your macchiato.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    I don’t speak for the creator of the pod, but in my view, yes this provides a shelter, and as the creators say “the pod is only 1 step up from a doorway, but still, it’s a step up from a doorway”. It is also a social experiment, the more attention the box garners, the more people are thinking about homelessness/rough sleeping.

  • Dan

    .

  • Practically_Family

    I understand that, I’d just believe that the social experiment and the space where a person may be sleeping may have been better kept separate. Not everyone who thinks about the homeless thinks fondly, especially not at slinging out time on Saturday night.

  • Tacapall

    First of all what a brilliant piece of ingenuity I take it that its made of non flammable materials, not that I would be worried if I was homeless, but for all those pen pushers in the health and safety dept who would make it their business to know. Now if there was a possibility of having a 24 hour cctv aimed at this pod wouldn’t that sort out a lot of the genuine worry about safety.

  • Dan

    What is the cleaning scheme?

    You are right, I have never been homeless. Don’t assume anything or patronise me about macchiatos because I asked a perfectly reasonable question about cleanliness. There may well be dirty urinated places where homeless have to seek shelter in the city at night. You don’t get to be on some high horse because you have been homeless by adding to their plight by offering another smelly pee soaked hideout which will be comfy for a week, then putrid and a mess after that.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    I was quoting what I had said on Talkback about the issue, and it was a general “you”…i’m not making any assumptions about your coffee choice, i simply meant it’s easy to judge things by the standard we with WiFi on our iPads in our nice warm homes live by… The cleaning arrangement has been sorted out by the creators of the pod (the same people who paid for and built it…how great it is to see what efforts those with a social conscience can go to)

    *Sarcasm Alert*
    How right you are, we shouldn’t offer a shelter that could stop another rough sleeper dying of exposure because though it may be clean now, it might not remain in the immaculate condition it currently is. Homeless people of Belfast, go back to your houses, the Homeless Pod might get dirty so you’re on your own again.

  • chrisjones2

    Why blame the cats?

  • Thanks again for shouting on behalf of roughsleepers everywhere.

    These should be rolled out worldwide, until there is a better solution.

    There will be teething problems, as there is with everything new, but these will be ironed out as this project develops. As it goes international, more minds will contribute, including many design companies.

    My 2p:

    For the time being, If they did get ‘aged’, then the old standby, cardboard, would keep one clean inside. Fresh cardboard could be left there, in the cleansing regime.

    Entrance, the lid. A bolt on the inside, with an outreach bypass key on the outside, would give security. Allows easier cleaning.

    Needs a Perspex window, both sides, to alert to daytime, and for security, but a sliding ply curtain to give privacy.

    Insulation between 2 skins of plywood, would give warmth.

    A drainage hole in all 4 corners would take care of spillages, and allow copious cleaning when necessary. Maybe more holes would double up as the ventilation, as well, and because it was downhill, rain wouldn’t come in that way.

    I hope that it goes viral.

    Thanks again.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    The organisations and causes with telephone number is a vital addition, not only does the pod now offer shelter, warmth, companionship (through fm radio) but it also offers an information point for someone who is unfortunate enough to be in the position of having to use the point, to seek out information and assistance to try and make it their last time having to use the pod.

    There is artwork all over the city, from marketing billboards, branded taxis, graffiti, murals and signs…some political, some not so…because this offers a basic need it should look like something that provides a basic need? Should the creators gave gone with painting it white with tesco-two-stripe-blue design?

  • babyface finlayson

    I think you and Practically-Family are right
    If the aim is to give practical help to someone sleeping rough for a night then quiet and discreet would be better.
    If the aim is to make a statement and embarrass the authorities then loud and colourful, with media attention is the way to go.
    I am not sure it can do both.
    I hope that does not seem like victim blaming. Of course someone who needs shelter should be able to use it without fear of idiots dancing on top of it, but that is the risk.

  • Practically_Family

    Today I recieved an email in which two chaps dressed as Imperial Stormtroopers from Star Wars are “standing guard” over the pod. The email mentions a soon to be released single…

    So, umm, yeah.

  • Practically_Family

    Just passed it and it’s lying on its side with the person slot facing up.