Homelessness by Becky Cherriman

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In Harrogate, this week a site specific theatre piece, Haunt will be taking place.

Billed as ‘a ghost tour with a difference’, Haunt has been developed working with writers who have experienced homelessness in Harrogate. Based on words from the Haunt anthology and material shown in the Royal Pump Rooms as part of Harrogate Stories, Haunt is a guided journey arriving at a place where images, music, words and performance ask : Who are the haunted? Who are the ghosts?

Along with Steve Toase, whose brainchild the project was and Tessa Gordziejko, I’ve been involved from the beginning, working with participants, co-writing the script and now performing.

When I’ve talked to people I’m close to about the project, they have sometimes responded with, ‘But you weren’t homeless, were you?’ I know what they mean.

Things had been difficult in my family home for a number of years and for a number of reasons. Then, in 1994, when I was 18, there was a huge argument and it was suggested that I leave. I wasn’t exactly thrown out but I felt staying was untenable.

As a charity that provide shelter for young people, Sash acknowledges that
homelessness is a complex issue and not just solved by providing a roof over
someone’s head. https://www.sash-uk.org.uk/about-us/

I wasn’t a street sleeper – I only once slept outside, in the Valley Gardens as it happens, and this was a choice. My partner wasn’t welcome at the place I was living so, if I wanted to spend the night with him, my only option was to sleep on the grass with his sleeping bag over the top of us. In the morning we were woken by someone prodding us – apparently they were concerned that we were dead.

I was lucky. Some people are forced into street sleeping. Others have to stay in hostels. Others sofa surf. The first tide of leaving home brought me to Chris’s sofa.

Chris was a generous friend and clever, creative man who has now sadly passed away. In his spare room he was putting up Adam, who, like me, had no place to be.

I soon migrated into the spare room and into a turbulent but exciting relationship with Adam.

Adam and I found a self-contained flat. Compared to most of our friends who were secreted away in bedsits, this was a luxury, a ‘pad’. And didn’t everyone know it? It was a party place, day and night, always overcrowded. Central to town, there was easy access through a window that did not lock. I can’t remember a night where there wasn’t at least one person sleeping on our floor. When I couldn’t bear it any more, I used to pull the quilt over my head and hope everyone would go away. They didn’t. I went hungry often when benefits payments weren’t made and we didn’t eat for days or I made bad decisions and spent what little I had on rolling tobacco. That kind of hunger is painful. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever experienced it. I’m not saying living there wasn’t fun at times but it wasn’t safe. It was never safe and it wasn’t home. Dodgy things were happening in the flat and people would turn up threatening and sometimes enacting serious violence. I knew I had to get out. Luckily for me my mum took me back for a while.

Just before I had my son, Adam and I found a house to live in. But things didn’t work out with Adam who was still embroiled in unhealthy lifestyle patterns and, when we almost lost our home for the second time, I called an end to it. I re-engaged with study and, after an Access Course obtained a place at the University of Leeds. I handed in my notice after finding somewhere to live in the city. But, as a single mum on benefits, they didn’t trust me to pay the rent and pulled out a week before I was due to move in. Again I found myself with no home of my own. After a short spell at my mum’s and then in a rented place with a friend, Unison found us somewhere to live – I wasn’t eligible for university accommodation. For two years we were safe within four walls. I had a succession of flats (damp and all) that I could stay in without fear of being thrown out.

When I finished university and still wasn’t able to find a job that would pay the bills and cover the cost of childcare, I fell on vulnerable ground again. I wasn’t eligible to stay but I couldn’t find anywhere else that would accept benefits – Leeds landlords prefer to rent to students. The council put me on their homeless priority list but didn’t manage to find me a place in the 4 years I was on it. Eventually, in 2003, my son and I were given a lovely housing association maisonette. I had found somewhere I could call home. It wasn’t perfect – I was living next door to someone whose paranoia and aggressive behaviour when unwell was sometimes turned on me. But it was a place my son and I could make together, a home we were even allowed to decorate. It would remain so until, by now making a living as a writer and workshop facilitator, I bought a house with my husband in 2011.

That is my story (or some of it). I’m sure many of my readers will have experienced vulnerable housing or homelessness at some point in their past. But whether you have or haven’t, you might be interested in seeing the show – a true collaboration of stories related to this topic.

Homelessness by Becky Cherriman

Saboteur Awards 2016

Last Friday, Becky, Steve and Tessa travelled down to London for the Saboteur Awards, where Haunt was shortlisted for Best Collaborative Work. We didn’t win (you can see the full list of winners here http://www.saboteurawards.org/), but we got to meet some great people, including A.B. Cooper and Sarah Miles from Paper Swans Press, and had an excellent night celebrating the health of poetry, spoken word and performance at the moment.

When we got back there was an email waiting with comments from those who had voted for Haunt. What was really striking was how everyone who commented got what Haunt is about. They understood the project, and what we’re trying to achieve.

Thank you to everyone who did vote for us, and your continued support. As Becky says in her blog post we make no apologies for sharing them here:

Haunt addresses very real issues in a new and innovative way.

A brave collaboration which aims to celebrate voices that are rarely heard whilst creating innovative work of high artistic quality.

It gives a voice to the voiceless.

Standing way above the rest with originality and great collaboration shining through the work.

Because they are great!

Brilliant project about homelessness which has produced a genuinely lovely book.

Moving, innovative project that gets to the heart of a city.

They are doing very important work in a creative, innovative way.

A wonderful fully cooperative project, raising the profile of a group of people often hidden from sight in towns like Harrogate. Gives them a voice in an original way.

The quality of the work and the depth and range of the community involvement.

Writing in the ultimate social sense.

Shockingly direct and unselfpitying accounts of people’s lives below the surface appearances of how things are meant to be.

It challenges cultural stereotypes and highlights that homelessness can be present in even the most well to do societies.

Because I grew up in Harrogate so this caught my attention and then haunted my dreams.

Innovative, forward thinking productions always, opening up debate about things that really matter. Very original way of looking at things, and opening the door to solutions.

A wonderful anthology giving a creative outlet to hidden voices and hidden talent and one that has made a real difference to the writers involved.

Innovation and fun.

Integrity.

I was particularly enthralled by Richard Harries.

Because the project allowed people who would likely otherwise be left out of arts activity to engage and get enjoyment from finding a voice.

The project has helped vulnerable people to have a voice.

For making a rather invisible subject visible through creativity and warmth. Inspiring, artistically brilliant and socially important.

Great piece on a growing issue in Yorkshire.

Managing to combine a great cause with some great stories. Giving opportunities and experience whilst raising awareness. All round a fab project.

Powerful work. Project which engaged and supported a group who really need it.

Well written and a great piece of work.

Brilliant work.

In aid of such a well deserved cause.

They’re the best collaborative work.

Excellent.

This is a beautifully haunting trip through the other side of Harrogate. The writing is powerful. It may just highlight the reality of towns and cities to the invisible people that are present there.

Just love it.

Covers an important and often neglected area of life with great sensitivity and empathy.

Very moving, on the important issue of homelessness, with participants who have been encouraged to express their real life experiences.

The book produced is great and the ongoing work of the project is raising awareness of homelessness in a town which many people wouldn’t believe has a problem.

My home town is perceived as affluent and privileged. Growing up there, I’ve often called it a schizophrenic town. In Haunt we see the other side, portrayed in a way the posh half would appreciate.

Because they are reaching out to include the excluded in society.

Intrinsic, honest, moving

They have achieved real social value as well as creative worth artistically.

amazing & evocative work

Extraordinary work tapping into the imaginations and the life experiences of some of the most marginalised people in the region.

Fantastic project, really opening people’s eyes to another side of posh Harrogate.

Because while there’s homelessness, we are all haunted, and this project is making a tangible impact.

They have done some amazing projects with the youth hostels that has been really effective

Positive work with the complex young people we support.

Amazing and moving.

Fantastic project that worked so well with our service users to produce some beautiful work

Really important project working with vulnerable people

Great project, giving people their own voice.

Having experienced homelessness and seen it’s impact first hand on many others in my hometown, this is an innovative and valuable project.

This is a genuinely collaborative project with one of the most excluded groups in society. It has led to some great art as well as opening up new opportunities for socially excluded individuals.

Because the project reminds us that homelessness and transient lives aren’t just a ‘far-away’ problem of big cities and deprived places… and, more importantly, reminds us that the homeless are real people with voices and opinions and likes and dislikes – rather than the blank receptacles for pity or charity that we’re all guilty (at times) of seeing them as.

The work they do raising awareness of the problem of homelessness, particularly in such an apparently affluent area as Harrogate where many do not realise it is happening, is amazing and important.

Because it is powerful and truly collaborative.

To encourage further collaboration between artists and venues that increase local knowledge and situational awareness. What Haunt has produced is not just a splendid piece of work, but establishes that effective, entertaining multidisciplinary approaches are eminently possibly.

Innovative, creative, inspirational.

The innovative approach to the project and the engagement with the homeless community amongst others who have collaborated on this work has been truly inspiring.

Homelessness education should be important to everyone.

Good writing and good work.

Beautiful powerful project.

The stories they are telling, in the setting they chose, and the way they are telling them.

Extraordinary work from (generally ignored) homeless people.

A sensitive collaboration between professional writers and non-professional, sometimes completely new, writers. Beautiful writing and a poignant insight into human fragility, and the fragility of our perceived ‘security’.

Very moving work about an often ignored issue.

Innovative, inclusive and local, what is not to like?

For helping those who don’t usually have a voice get their stories out there.

They are doing very important and creative work for the local community and are great poets themselves.

An important and deeply emotional project for the socially excluded.

Great collection of stories, well written.

It’s a great enterprise involving many fine Northern talents.

Compassionate and well-crafted responses to current issues of homelessness and the ways that contemporary issues can haunt us by doing as well as doing nothing, through writing and film.

For all the help and awareness they are raising. And the hard work that’s gone into the project.

Saboteur Awards 2016

Howl for Harrogate by Jem Henderson

In a town of white orange tick tock clockwork people,
in among Stray-side green yellow chalybeate sulphur fed succulence opulence,
where skag-addled junk crews ferry deals across the darker areas of town ,
and purple yellow white flowers peek up from ice-crusted drop points under giant looming elm trees,
haunted gaunted hippies waiting for the next big fix,
poverty and speed and endless nights their only source of nutrition,
where one million pound mansions press up next to dole scum queues that lounge under shaded avenues,
where Bilton churches hand out the only warmth and fuel in town, the fires of damnation banked up to keep these paupers warm,
who laugh and shit and cry in mould old stone bedsits, three to a room,
where youth is stamped down by the foot of depression and disability, forever young, untold fractures of fragile minds,
causing nightmares, shivers, DTs, the uncomfortable on the nod gouch in a lonely magnolia hell of their own,
brains full of the nonstop jabber of a lonely schizo on the bus home,
to tell his head friends that at least he spoke to someone that day.
From Broadacre backstreet fighting and gangs, forgotten penury in the town of the rich,
to Duchy Road, the elephant graveyard of the rich old fucks of Yorkshire,
who’d rather feather their nest eggs than even see those around them too hungry to even ask for handout,
not here in Harrogate.
Still a queer odd strange Dickensian nightmare.

Howl for Harrogate by Jem Henderson

Call for submissions for Haunt anthology

Tunnel

We invite stories or poems from people who have experienced homelessness, or vulnerable housing in Harrogate.

Please send 250 words, or 25 lines of poetry including blank lines, and a 50 word bio about your experiences of homelessness or vulnerable housing. 

Closing date 20th April.

All appropriate submissions will be put on the website and some pieces will be selected for the anthology.

Submissions to haunt.harrogate@gmail.com

More Info

HAUNT /hɔːnt/

v.  To inhabit, visit, or appear to in the form of a ghost.

n.  A place much frequented.

v.  To haunt one’s thoughts or memory.

The history of this town haunts us.

These buildings in which we live are spectres of past opulence.

The healing of this town is not for us.

Harrogate is known for its past as a wealthy spa town, and still has a reputation as a genteel place of tea rooms and flower shows.

This is not the Harrogate of everyone. For some people this idealised history is a haunting presence in their lives. In the fabric of buildings where they live in one room, or the parks where they sleep.  Their experiences are muffled beneath the dominant voice of Harrogate.

Haunt explores how people who are homeless, or bedsit residents, live inside these ghosts of the town’s past. Haunt gives people a place to tell stories not normally heard within the accepted narrative of the town and bring them to a wider audience.

Call for submissions for Haunt anthology