Homelessness is a rising issue hitting the streets in the UK and Leicester is not to be excluded. As a student who lives in the city centre and also being from Leicester, it has not gone unnoticed how many people increasingly are sleeping on the streets.
One man in particular that I spoke with is James McLean, a member of the homeless party. If you pass by Jubilee Square, you may have seen the tents pitched there. Mr McLean is one of the driving forces for this.
Having been introduced to Mr McLean, I also met Jorge Uriza, another fellow DMU student who was at the time interviewing James on why he was along with others sleeping in a tent outside in the cold. I recorded the interview Mr Uriza produced and on behalf of Demon Magazine and Mr Uriza, I would like to write up what James McLean had to say about the homeless situation.
Claiming it as ‘occupying’ Jubilee Square, Mr McLean had his tent pitched for four weeks in the same spot from the 19th December 2016 to the 17th of January 2017. The aim was to highlight the issues of homelessness and the way society treats those within a position of vulnerability.
Mr McLean stated;
‘I occupied it to highlight the plight of homeless people, them being attacked in doorways, being urinated on, generally being put in hostile situations from members of the public; not just from members of the public, but from authorities. From local authorities, police, businesses.’
Describing it as a ‘declaration of war on society’, Mr McLean had one main mission in mind. This was to change the conversation. He highlighted issues with the stereotypes given to the homeless, such as many being on drugs or are alcoholics, but felt the real issue was being ignored. The real issue, Mr McLean, claimed is the ‘failures of successive governments and local authorities to address the housing shortage, to address the lack of social housing, to address the slum landlords that are all over the country’.
Housing seems to be at the heart of the issue for Mr McLean, with a lack of support around to help for those in difficult circumstances.
During his time on Jubilee Square, Mr McLean raised concerns with society and their reaction to the protests that he and fellow others were carrying out. With claims of attacks on the tents from groups of people frequenting the local clubs and other night entertainment venues in the area, Mr McLean spoke of attempted urination on the tents and large objects being also thrown at their camp accompanied by other threatening behaviour.
Mr McLean said ‘judgement of the homeless needs to stop and more needs to happen with the hostel system’.
Referring to the Dawn Centre as an example, a temporary accommodation facility for those in need and located on Conduit Street near the train station, Mr McLean presents a perspective that suggests it is insufficient for anyone in need of help;
‘All it has turned into is a cesspit of violence and drugs and the staff have actually abandoned everyone. They have given up.’
Mr McLean raised many issues relating to what vulnerable people continuously having to face on the streets, from women in abusive relationships to young people placed in a volatile environment, neither groups having anywhere to turn to.
Having been prosecuted on the 18th of January 2017 by the Leicester City Council for trespassing, the fight for Mr McLean goes on, expressing a small victory during his time in Jubilee Square. Mr McLean hopes to continue his battle against society and get the conversation changing throughout the UK to lead to a change within society.