My last story about whether some of the treatment of people with disabilities could be classified as hate crimes was slightly tongue in cheek. I thought it risked being accused of exaggeration. Not any more!
Both our local papers, the Camden New Journal (CNJ) and the Ham and High, have recently run stories about the council being involved in a forceful and callous eviction of homeless people from their shelters.
A disproportionate number of homeless people live with a range of impairments, including mental heath issues.
The CNJ’s story describes in detail how, Veolia, its waste contractor, dumped some 12 tents, shelters to homeless people in Huntley Street next to University College Hospital, into their lorry and crushed them. It is likely that many tents may well have contained vital personal items and documents such as identity cards, letters, medicines and photographs.
The clear message to homeless people with and without impairments, is that they are rubbish too.
So far as I am aware no impact assessment was done on the effects of this barbaric act on some 12 of the most marginalised members of our Borough. Living in a tent is not a lifestyle choice and homelessness has many causes.
Some living on the streets may be former service personnel, finding it hard to adjust after the war in Afghanistan, others may be just out of prison, and some could have been evicted from their homes under no fault legislation and a disproportionate number will have some form of impairment.
After the council initially struggled to identify and explain its role in the clearance, Councillor Adam Harrison admitted to the CNJ that it had had “operational involvement”, in other words direct Council staff participation, in the event.
The pictures in both papers show the tents and their possessions being thrown into the bin lorry as rubbish and crushed. The clear message to homeless people with and without impairments, is that they are rubbish too.
Camden Council’s Routes off the Street programme claims to work ‘creatively with clients to establish individually tailored plans to enable people to get away from their street based lifestyle’; is crushing people’s shelters in a Veolia rubbish truck one such of these creative and individually tailored methods?
If this was not a hate crime, what is? How can any homeless person trust Camden Council on homelessness now?
The various quotes from Councillors Harrison and Pat Callaghan and Council boss Georgia Gould focus on investigating what happened and blaming the Government. Nothing is offered to help those whose homes and possessions were destroyed to get their lives back together.
Priority should be given to helping those whose homes were destroyed, not seeking some poor junior staff member to take the blame.
If this was not a hate crime, what is?
Magdalena Fink, a 35-year-old paralegal, perished in a fire at Daleham Garden estate after the Town Hall failed to act on a risk assessment about the building.
The investigation of this callous tent clearing should be independent of the Council and include one or more members whose homes were destroyed. The saying is the buck stops at the top.
It is unclear as to whether Councillor Harrison knew about this event in advance, or was ignorant of it. In either case, he should, in my view, be suspended from the Council until the investigation is completed.
This event confirms my contention that in some or even many Council departments there is a complete contempt for the borough’s most marginalised people, who they believe should be treated as “rubbish”, just as their shelters have been.
Perhaps the action point for Camden Disability Action is to press the Council to undertake risk assessments in all cases where decisions affect vulnerable and disabled people.
Watch an ITV report on the council’s tent shame here