Tag Archives: homeless

Street Cat and Feral Heart: why I stopped supporting the Big Issue

It’s been a time of social justice films. Whether or not they are actually just is another matter.

I’m not going to analyse the quality of the films, although I will say that the two I saw this week were not films I especially rated.

One was My Feral Heart about a man with Downs syndrome who befriends a man who does community support work as a punishment for his involvement in animal welfare activism. What I got from that was the incredibly dreadful way that care homes treat people. The carers might mean well, but they have no idea about dignity, or that those who can’t communicate as they do or have the same motor skills are not less able to think and feel.

A Street Cat Named Bob is far too popular – unlike the smaller release film above which I saw at a festival and made a point of supporting.

Unlike I, Daniel Blake, or My Feral Heart, the protagonist’s situation is one we may struggle to sympathise with – for James is a homeless druggie. The cat with matching hair helps us be endeared. But I felt for Baz, the other homeless guy who James rejects and then finds dead of an overdose. We might too push away this snot nosed needy young man whom had no one to mourn him, no one to fight to put him on a recovery programme. It’s the Bazes that I really worry about. I worry how many there are. But I have heard statistics that say there are far less dying of illegal drugs than prescribed ones.

The Bob story is true. And of course I’m glad that James found a way off the streets and off harmful drugs – both sorts. But there was much I found ingratiating. One was his writing success, when he wasn’t even a writer. Many writers – me included – work for years, perhaps in poverty, until they gain recognition. I can understand how other Big Issue sellers and buskers would be resentful of the attention that a ginger tom gave James.

The shows that James’s ultimate success is that he has bought a property, in London, Europe’s most expensive city.

It reminded me of The Soloist, another true story about a musician living on the street, this time in LA. And I was angry too at the rules that Nathaniel – that’s the Soloist – was made to subscribe to by hostels and other helpers.

Just like Luke was expected to in the residential home for those with learning difficulties. Just like James was by his support worker and the Big Issue Office.

Are none of these aware of transactional analysis, and that it’s more than the special needs guy that it keeps in nappies?!

I understood why Nathaniel wanted to keep out of the system.

I have always sympathised with homeless people and often bought the Big Issue – I’ve also offered them articles.

I hate that the Big Issue is ‘a hand up not a hand out’. I’ve often asked what our issue is with the idea of giving for giving’s sake, without expectation of the recipient or expecting something out of it.

It’s called grace.

I also hate that the Big Issue is resocialisation into the world of capitalism, where you become useful by selling- a frankly often unwanted magazine of varying quality – and by learning about profit.

The way the Big Issue is portrayed here makes me decide not to support it again. I care about the people selling it. But if the office is full of blunt tough love and lots of rules – including CUTTING SELLERS’ SOURCE OF INCOME over a squabble about selling patches – then I will find another way to support those without homes.

Note again how patches are about territory. I saw Swallows and Amazons – the original – for the first and last time, and these children of military parents were claiming and defending territory in their games, making rules, making leaders to obey without dissent.

James not only lost his Big Issue selling, but he was banned from busking by the police for being the victim of an act of aggression. Busking is how James survived. (Unlike Daniel Blake, no mention of benefits offices here). If he was caught busking, James would lose his recovery programme.

And Joanne Frogatt’s Val was angering – are support workers that bad or is it just how they always appear on the screen? Why did he hug and thank her when she’d been horrid to him in the hospital and forced him to be on a prescribed, profit making drug which is harder to come off than the one he was trying to give up?

He had to go to chemist for a regular dose of methadone or lose his support programme and his disgusting home that only a homeless person would be glad of.

I noted how public his reporting to the chemist was – so that his almost girlfriend learns he’s on drugs when she comes in to shop and sees him taking the familiar little cup.

The Bob cat film also pertains to be about animal rights, but the intrusive procedures that deprived Bob of his intimate parts infuriated me. If we did that to a woman, we call it genital mutilation, if we do it to an animal we say (as in the words of Belle in the film) it’s giving the cat a chance to survive. It’s all about territory and fighting – just like both druggies, buskers and Big Issue sellers.

And all this done by a charity who gives ‘care’ for free and then sees James give his week’s food money to a harsh receptionist for the drugs he didn’t know he’d have to pay for. Cat drugs that is, prescription post operative ones.

Unlike Daniel Blake, which was clearly indicting the system, I wasn’t sure how My Feral Heart or A Street Cat Named Bob wanted their audience to feel. Was I meant to like these support workers? Was I meant to feel grateful for the organisations and institutions which these protagonists got embroiled in?

Was there not a critique of the police’s busking ban, the Big Issue’s selling ban (like benefit sanctions) and general tone towards its sellers, the animal welfare charity, the care home and that an independent man who’d looked after others is forced into?!

Has this not caused a furore about how prescribed drugs are creating a revenue out of those on proscribed ones, and are causing them as much harm?

I’ll have more to say about pro and prescribed drugs another time.

PS I wrote to the Big Issue for comment and didn’t really get any defence, save to say that James chose to be involved in a recent magazine and has a good relationship with them.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Pursuit of Happyness

My thoughts on the 2007 film

Will Smith is very engaging and sympathetic, but my critique is of the world he enters – and that it is never really critiqued by the film.

In passing, it does throw up that a homeless woman has more chance of getting a bed for the night, though I’d like to add that both men and women need shelter, whether or not they have a child with them.

I thought that the way the church he slept at handled the “we’re full” tonight was about as tactful as the end of Bugs Bunny cartoons – that’s all folks. No more, you need to leave. And yet the real Chris Gardner, whose story this is, is grateful and asked that the real pastor re-enact his role.

The US tax system is disgusting – that money can be taken without notice or discussion direct from your bank if they believe that you have underpaid. The IRS seem to have no thought for what money they leave you with. This was directly responsible for putting Chris and son on the streets.

The carparking fine system is likewise a disgrace, that holds you in prison overnight, jeopardising job and the safety of children. Is this person dangerous? Is this money so urgently and truly needed? And then to threaten social services on you for being a bad parent!!

The behaviour of landlords was also abyssal. I wish in the film that Chris had tried to explain his circs to his, rather than just fob off yet another rent request and keep walking. But twice he is without home and without notice: he finds a new lock and his things outside, not even a letter. That is illegal – you have to serve notice and go through the courts where I live. Their lack of compassion from landlords shows why so many face homelessness.

It also shows why you need to keep railway stations open at night, and how all night trains also serve a purpose. And it shows that all kinds of people can face homelessness, in case one has a stereotype and belief about who’s deserving of help (an attitude I reject).

It shows how some people make a living through selling unnecessary objects, and how that selling enough of something to live off can be very hard.

But then Chris graduates to more selling of unnecessary objects – financial packages. I was saddened that his impetus to join the world of stockbrokers was seeing a flash car. As a poor person, I could understand his thinking – what would it take to stop this struggle, and what do people who don’t struggle do for a job? But the car lure felt shallow, and stock brokerage not the aspiration that his partner assumes— “Why didn’t you just say astronaut?” she sneers when she hears.

I thought that the film would criticise the stock brokerage entry scheme – that a ‘lucky’ handful of hopefuls work 6 months unpaid, but only one gets a job at the end of it. They’re abused – being asked to lend to (and sometimes pay for) their overpaid superiors run, errands they daren’t say no to, work ridiculously stressful days, always trying to increase productivity and beat their colleagues. I did not admire Chris for saying that he worked out that not drinking water and hanging up the phone between calls gave him an advantage. All jobs need breaks – yes to the bathroom to, and to drink. It should never be an advantage to overwork, go without, to be pressed to maximum.

I really wanted Chris to be offered the position at the end, but I also really wanted him to say no. I wanted him to have learned that happyness is not found managing fiscal portfolios, nor in the harsh competitive and abusive world of glass towers. It’s not even just found in family bonds.

The title cards at the end disappointed me – for this was not my idea of reaching happyness, and I’d like to think, not the sort that Lincoln meant when he wrote the quote that the film’s title comes from.

I watched the extras to see if the real Chris had anything better to say. He did say that though the world presented this as a rags to riches tale, he saw it as one of parental love, but even that didn’t entirely endear and soften me. Making it in the financial world wasn’t my idea of achievement. Although I was glad to see that he uses his wealth to help others, I am unsure of the true worthiness of spreading capitalist ideas to new counties and generations.

It felt a little like the oft mentioned Rubik’s Cube (there’s a whole featurette on it) and those medical instruments Chris sells – not that useful, just an end in itself. And whereas those cube competitions don’t harm anyone, the economic markets do, and so does the unspoken message from the film that success in them is something to aspire to.

I would be more concerned about reforming the tax office, shelters, parking fees procedures, landlords, and the abuses of internships than linking this story to the American dream. I am all for coming through, overcoming odds, seeing determination rewarded, supporting love – all things I hoped for when I chose the film. But I want to see more Lincoln, less Lehman in the outcome.

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Government gripes

What does Royal Mail think it will achieve by raising the price of postage so? If it is already struggling to compete how will this assist it? In my experience delivery is slow and often inaccurate – misdelivered items are regular. In times of cuts, passing one’s own struggles onto the public is immoral and also does not make business sense. it is claimed that too many of us are using other methods to transport things and that RM are not viable – so how is making a radical price increase going to help?

The cuts continue to be ridiculous and eating at those who need the money most. Housing benefit claimants are slashed each year without warning as a kind of warped anniversary present. Just because one has been claiming for a time does not mean you can magically waft in more money at the government’s behest. It’s still a system where it makes claimants worse off for working. These moves are going to make some homeless and make those with a home in very unsuitable living situations. It also passes on the shortfall to landlords, some of whom might do very well for doing very little, but the people really responsible for this so called deficit are not in any way taking any of the strain. They’ve no idea about being poor and now the quite well off are also struggling financially. The Guardian reported that East Cheshire council is paying over £200,000 per year to its top two council leaders – one of whom is off sick. Paying them a more suitable salary would mean alot of people on benefits (as well as all the other axed services and needs) could be paid. Leaders don’t understand the anguish and fear and the spiral they are putting onto people. Or are they like Scrooge, hoping the poorest will just die in the gutter?

We shouldn’t let them.

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