Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Thoughts of the Day

I am not so clueless as to not realise that sometimes we have to hold up arms to defend our virtues, and our rights. Yet this year, it seems that people the world over have had to do this so many times. Rather than being the last choice to make, it seems like they zoomed past all the other options and went straight for the guns. I will not pretend that I know enough about verbal negotiation, especially when it comes to international politics but I do wonder whether we as the human species are failing at communication in something that is so vital to us. If wars are avoidable, and my belief is that they can be, then surely we may have avoided much of bloodshed we have had this year.

Perhaps I sound naive, and maybe I should shut this door and just concentrate on my own life. But I just can't do it. Even though my own personal life is beautiful, I just cannot shake off the wider world that also emcompesses my personal sphere. I am angry, and I am bewildered. Most of all, I am sad, sombre even, that our species cannot even get along and work together. Instead, innocent people of all ages are suffering and have died because the leaders of certain states cannot figure out a way that is peaceful. Why are they the leaders if they cannot even do this? I understand that some of the wars or the fighting is due to groups of people killing others who are not the same as them. And perhaps what my country's government and other countries' governments are doing is right or maybe it'll just fuel it even more. I cannot but feel sad about the innocent lives that will be destroyed today.

It makes me sorrowful that we as the human race are forgetting the lessons we learnt from the wars in the previous century. That those sacrifices had a shelf-life. And that perhaps all we really are is bloodthirsty. Never mind the climate change- we'll have killed each other well before all the ice melts.


Monday, 15 September 2014

Young, Homeless and Disenfranchised

Why do some, if not most young people feel disenfranchised?

Someone asked me to write a post about this topic yesterday, and although I don't know much about most young people, I do know something about the homeless youth, especially those who are currently living in homeless hostels around the country.

I will begin by telling you about my time in a youth hostel that I ended up in when I was 18, shortly before I turned 19. In a previous post called 'A Short Memoir' I touch on it very lightly. Although I cannot remember everything that happened during my time there, I will write about things I do remember. Now, there was a long waiting list to get into The Cambridge Youth Foyer, I was advised by my then Connexions worker to tell the advisor at Hobson House that I only wanted to go into The Foyer, the others she told me were horrible, unsuitable- rough. With this knowledge in hand, I told the advisor at Hobson House that I would only accept The Foyer. The friend I had been living with wanted me to move out. I was there living with her family for about 6 months at that point; I had outstayed my welcome. Within 2 weeks I had got a place due to being a priority. 

The Foyer was newly built by English Churches Housing Group (ECHG), now they are merged with Riverside. They had and still have a hostel solely for adult homeless people, and the Foyer was built just for the young. As soon as I arrived, my keyworker filled in forms for various benefits including Job Seekers and Housing Benefit. That was the day I became trapped like all the other young people living there. The rent was £189 at least per week. The Housing Benefit covered less so we had to pay the difference. 

I was still adamant on carrying on with my education, which I later found out that I could not complete as I had missed out on 7 months of it. But I did carry on going back to Ely where I had been staying to do work experience at the local newspaper. After a while I left because I couldn't afford to catch the train and I saw my father a few times which made me afraid. I got to know other residents the the hostel, who like me had problems with their parents too. I remember distinctly celebrating Christmases with many of them, as they too didn't have anywhere to go. I remember still holding onto my own personal goals of succedding in life, doing well, showing my father that I was capable of being successful but it shocked me to see almost everyone else had lost that fire. The hostel had stages of accomplishments. Everyone started off living in a shared house, then moved into either the disabled flat or straight into their own flats, and from then they would move into the community by being given a council flat. 

At my first meeting with the key worker assigned to me I noticed that she had printed lots of my poems from my website 'for reference'. And although she and her subsequent replacements helped me and supported me throughout my stay, I cannot say that this has been the case for everyone. 

As time went on- I was there for about 4 years, I too began to lose hope:

Firstly, if you got a job while living there, you had to pay almost all of your money towards rent as Housing Benefit would lower the amount it paid in rent. I got a part time job shortly after moving in, the benefits office completely stopped all my benefits, even though I was only working part-time. I wasn't earning enough to pay all my rent, and even though they restarted again, they did not back pay which meant that I was in rent arrears. 

Secondly, this had a huge affect on me, all my savings went on the rent arrears and for the first time in my life, I was genuinely poor. And as I was still living in fear, and still trying to be strong, everything fell apart. I tried to do a diploma but couldn't do it. I worked more to pay rent, afford food, but the more I earnt the more rent I had to pay, and the less I had in a pocket. In the end, I just broke. Everything ended. Now, I was just like everyone else at the Foyer, jobless, without purpose until I was told about the Mill Road Bridge Project. It took away my mind from thoughts about being a failure. We were given a number of months to complete our designs, and I must say I took my time on that.

Thirdly, my key worker told me I had to go to the doctor and get meds for depression or I would not get a flat. I had been penalised. I was effectively being told that if I didn't agree to them I would end up being thrown out. Even arguing that I would seek counselling wasn't enough. I was angry and upset but I went nonetheless. My doctor told me I was suffering from Severe Clinical Depression. I thought at the time that my life was over, and even to this day it has a huge effect on my life. I tried lots of different meds but none of them helped me. I started The Prince's Trust Programme. It helped me build my confidence again. I felt better doing it as well as the Mill Road Bridge mural design. I was busy at last, but as soon as the programme finished and the bridge was painted (my design won and you can see the picture of it to the top right), I was once again overtaken by depression. Then I got the back problems, one day my back just started hurting, and despite the meds making me feel numb, the pain still remained. I didn't leave the room for 2 months in a go once. When I finally emerged, I had lost the skills to socialise with people. The 2 months are still a blur. I don't remember much of it, and no one came looking for me. 

Fourthly, when my back went bad, my key worker had managed to put me on another benefit that meant that I didn't have to sign on after finishing the programme. But as I still had a lot of arrears from the time I was working, I was paying most of my money towards rent. If I didn't pay the amount they wanted me to I was told I would be thrown out. I remember I felt like I needed to do something with my life and so got a voluntary position at a local bookshop, and then also at a local radio station, and then also began meeting up with a local youth group that worked for equality. But whilst I was doing all this, I was told by DWP I couldn't work. I felt sanctioned, afraid but I carried on doing all that I could. I can't fully remember everything that happened right now, but at the time I was in a lot of pain all the time. I remember being crippled in pain and none of the meds ever worked, they just made me feel zombified most of the time. Thanks to my key worker though, I did manage to go on lots of different courses. As I was still in arrears I didn't always have a lot of money. I remember the time I didn't have enough money to buy some jam or bread. I had 80p on me until the next week, all I had at home was rice and mint sauce. That's all I ate. I remember an old friend seeing me not eating and telling her mother, who ordered me food and had it delivered. I'm still thankful for it. 

Eventually, I was moved to the disabled flat which I shared with a friend I had made there. And after a while she too started volunteering at the local bookshop. But like me, she too was afraid of working because she knew that she would end up paying most of it in rent.

Fifthly, going on from the previous point, the hostel workers wanted us to go forward in life. They cared about us. But it was the system that was corrupt. I remember making another friend there who had just moved in and went through the same motions as me. She too had got a job when she moved in, but she too ended up paying most of it in rent, eventually she began working full -time, then over time just to be able to pay rent and then have some left to feed herself. But the more she earned, the more they asked in rent. Whilst the girl I lived with and I were still paying more and more money to repay our arrears. 

Eventually, I moved into a flat there, and after a year I moved into the apartment I currently live in.

So, why are young homeless people feeling disenfranchised? Maybe because they have so many problems that it's hard for them to look above the clouds that are constantly raining on them. Or maybe it's because the only help they get after their parents shit on them is under threat. Due to the lack of social housing a lot of these young people have been moved into the adult hostels which are rife with drugs and violence. What's worse is that due to cuts the residents no longer have a permanent key worker. Most of the staff are from agencies, they don't really know the residents well, and nor do they really care. Then there's the issue of knowing that these young people are below the poverty line, and that no one really wants to listen to them or engage with them. 

While I was designing the Mill Road Bridge mural, most of the residents used to come and sit in my room, encouraging me to keep going, offering me any help they could. Someone even donated all their colouring pencils to help me finish the drawings. It was their way of having their voices heard because up until then and then afterwards they were once again trapped and invisible. 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

A Short and Rather Simple Review of Be The Change Cambridge

Yesterday I went to a conference called 'Be the Change'. For me, it was about the residents of Cambridge meeting together and seeing how we can make our city greater, fairer and more equal. There were politicians present too, who were there to listen and take away with them our ideas.

I suppose many outsiders wonder how such a great city has any problems, but the truth is that while our city is great and we are proud to live here, there are still problems we need to face up to and find their solutions. Yes, we are the forerunners in science and technology, but I feel that the ordinary citizens of the city have suffered from its success. Due to its success, Cambridge has become the beacon of hope, and the city where people flock to, to make a career. Due to this, we have a shortage in affordable housing, housing in general in fact, and issues surrounding education and traffic problems. These are not the only problems, and things aren't really as simple as I'm making them sound. The city is expanding too quickly, and due to it being surrounded by green belt land, it is becoming more and more difficult to buy within the city, unless of course you are a millionaire. Although the city has lots of new developments, they cost sky high prices. We are also suffering from investors buying up these expensive homes or people buying them and renting them out for extortionate sums of money. Then, there are other concerns surrounding the idea of the community and people trying desperately holding on to the endangered soulfulness of Cambridge.

At the conference, after coming up with these problems or issues, they were divided into 6 different sections. I went for the 'Housing, Green Spaces, Development' section. I found that being there showed me that I still have much to learn, I must speak out more and be more confident in my opinions. When you are in a situation that many people feel deeply passionate about the subject, it is often difficult to voice your opinions. Furthermore, it is made even more difficult when others dismiss them. It kind of showed me why so many people remain silent, and why many more people feel disenchanted by politics and speaking up about the solutions to the bigger problems. Although I was able to later on express this to the group, I still feel uncomfortable and slightly disheartened by what I experienced yesterday. Moreover, I can now understand why it is difficult to come up with solutions to the many problems our city faces. People are intolerant. People are impatient. People are disrespectful. If we became a little bit more open to other people's opinions on any matter, if we're willing enough to listen to their ideas, we may well come up with solutions we would never have thought of. That's what I've always loved about working in groups, listening to others' ideas opens up so many more possibilities.While listening to other groups, I felt happier, feeling hopeful that they had been able to overcome the pride that a few people in our group were unable to shed. Their presentation of ideas were much more positive. But then, housing is not an easy subject to discuss either.

Something else that was discussed in the conference was Unitarian Authority. Cambridge is effectively run by 3 authorities, which makes things a lot more difficult rather than easy. One thing that all the groups spoke of was the idea of joint up thinking, and a separate entity that over looks the housing situation. It seems that despite Cambridge being run by 3 authorities, they've still not gained the skills of working well together. There seems to be no effective communication between different parts of the council and then similar departments of the 3 authorities that run the city which in turn has resulted in poor communication to the residents. There was an interesting talk of a unitarian authority as one of the sections. It was interesting, and something that will need a lot of support behind it to have any chance of becoming a reality.

The Conservative MEP for East of England, stumbled in an hour before the end of the event, and to me seemed to have completely missed the point. Instead of discussing our solutions, she tried to make us feel guilty for having any views on any matters. She reminded us about how we should be proud of Cambridge, and how Cambridge is the city of advancing science etc. In other words, she just gave a political speech. She may as well have not come and just sent us a video. The leader of the council addressed all the topics and demonstrated that he had listened. He discussed at great length the issues facing us and made a great effort. The city's MP was the only one who made the links- we had all pretty much said that we needed joined up thinking. He also made a great effort on his part.

Someone else worth noting about is the Cambridge Conservative Parliamentary Candidate, who left quite early on in the day. She seemed to know very little about the real issues surrounding Cambridge, and seemed to know very little about the city she is standing for soon.

The idea of having politicians at this conference was excellent. It made me feel positive, as though my ideas were listened to and someone who had the power to make a difference had heard them. This, in turn, made me feel powerful as an ordinary citizen. As I've already said, I will be taking a few things away with me from yesterday. The most important thing is that I will speak up, I stupidly thought that since we're all adults that I didn't have to but you really have to fight to be heard. I will keep learning as I still have so much more to learn, and I will stand by my opinions. At the same time, I will remain respectful to the opinions of others.

Overall, it was a great event, albeit in a room half full of egos.

Until next time,

Thursday, 11 September 2014


WARNING: Written while extremely upset

It's sometimes difficult and impossible to heal old wounds, especially when those wounds cause bitterness between two people. Time never heals wounds. Those who say so are deluded or lying to you.

I have a difficult relationship with my mother, I hadn't spoken to her for over 6 months until very recently. I haven't spoken to my father for nearly 9 years. The one thing I have realised is that no matter how old one gets, one always craves for the love only a parent can give; the safety blanket laced with love and affection that is the warmest and the softest. God only knows that I've been craving their love for such a long time. No amount of love from friends or past loves have ever managed to fill the hole I've always had in my heart.

Why is it that forgiveness comes so naturally for me in all other situations, and all other people apart from them? I suppose I hoped that they would know better, understand things better, and know me better. But then again I wonder how well parents would know the children they never raised.

In the Indian culture, we are told that when something bad happens to us in this life, it is due to the bad things we have done in our previous life. I sometimes wonder whether I left my own children in my previous life, because I don't really know if there is a worse pain or punishment out there than this. I know I sound naive and idiotic saying that, there probably is a worse pain but I don't think I've ever felt this amount of anguish....

I understand that everyone has their own problems in life. I try not to publish these types of posts because I don't want to make people sad; I want to make people think.

This post probably looks unfinished, it kind of is but I just couldn't go on.

Until next time,
Sen x