March for the Homeless – 2016

Since coming to the south coast, Brighton has felt like home. I spent two years of university here, and hastily returned once I had finished my voluntary projects in Turkey and Syria.

In the recent years I have seen the issue of homelessness become more and more prevalent on the streets. It used to be that there were a handful of unfortunate people who were forced to live in doorways and shop fronts, but now, almost wherever you look, the streets are littered with these bodies that society has abandoned.

In the last two years alone, the dramatic rise in homelessness has been obvious. I now walk past at least seven homeless people each day. It is a figure that has grown far too high, and unfortunately, shows no signs of slowing.

Faced with this problem, and the inadequate response given by the government and the local council, the people of Brighton and Hove have begun to take matters into their own hands.

The warmth and generosity of the few inspires me and should shame us all. Organisations like Off The Fence and The Clock Tower Sanctuary do what they can to help the homeless community, and activist groups like OpSafe and the Love Activists provide outreach and food.

Even with such wonderful people, the situation deteriorates. The homeless crisis needs a political solution, but none seems forthcoming.

Over the Christmas period of 2015-16 I was in South Wales seeing family, but upon my return to East Sussex I saw the news that three homeless people had died in a week. The news appalled me and caused anger and grief among many in the community.

The clock tower in the centre of Brighton became a vigil for the lives that were lost. People used it for posters, messages, and for the laying of flowers. It continues to act as a memorial for those that have died on the streets, and as a warning for what will inevitably continue unless something is done.

In mid-April it had been arranged that the second annual March for the Homeless was to take place in Brighton. I give money each month to a charity helping Brighton’s homeless community, and my flatmate volunteers with the Love Activists outreach work, but I knew there was more I could do.

On a long train journey up to Harrogate I began to think of how I could contribute.

The idea for a direct action formed in my mind, and after speaking with Maria – the organiser of the March for the Homeless event – we decided to see if it could be put into action.

The plan was to loan coffins for the march and deliver them to the council offices. These coffins symbolised the lives that had been lost, and also represented the future that these unfortunate people had if the situation were allowed to continue.

I contacted a number of coffin suppliers and thankfully was rewarded with five coffins from two manufacturers – Wealdon Curve Coffins and Cradle to Grave Willow Coffins. Three of these coffins came with slogans painted on the side to maximise the impact that they would have when carried through the streets.

In the weeks leading up to the event, letters and press releases were sent out, blogs were written, and social media was updated. The number of attendees grew and on Saturday April 16th, 150 people gathered to march through the streets of Brighton, delivering coffins to the local council, and handing in a petition with 50,000 signatures.

I was honoured to be a part of it.

“No More Deaths On Our Streets”