‘Cruella de Vil’ Suella Braverman says tents are a homeless lifestyle choice. Really?
It’s true that unlike the BBC's man in Gaza, Rushdi Abualouf, tent-living homeless people on Britain’s streets don’t face bombs from a wrathful Israel. But, what about the other reasons – sometimes, bigger than the individual?
News that Britain’s home secretary Suella Braverman plans to restrict the use of tents by homeless people in urban areas made me think of Rushdi Abualouf. The BBC’s longtime reporter in Gaza has been living in a tent in the southern part of the Palestinian territory for the past few weeks.
Forced to move south from Gaza City by Israel Defence Force warnings that the area would be a theatre of operations, one can only faintly imagine Mr Abualouf’s life in his fragile tent. By some accounts, he subsists as best he can (working indefatigably all the while) with his wife, three children and members of his extended family. This, even as bombs fall, supplies of food, water and other essentials dwindle and the cries of the wounded, the grieving, the fearful rise up all around. It must be a perilous, wretched, soul-sapping time. The tent must provide scant sanctuary, an illusion of fixity.
This period of Mr Abualouf’s tent existence can hardly be called a lifestyle choice. It is a compulsion; forced upon this man in Gaza by circumstances beyond his control.
Why should we assume that tent-dwelling homeless people on British streets have made a lifestyle choice? More to the point, why does the British minister, Ms Braverman, believe these people want to live in this way?
It’s true that the tent-living homeless people on Britain’s streets don’t face bombs from a wrathful Israel. But, what about the other reasons – sometimes, bigger than the individual – that leave no alternative?
As Polly Neate, chief executive of the British charity Shelter, has said, “Living on the streets is not a lifestyle choice. Homelessness happens when housing policy fails and boils down to people not being able to afford to live anywhere. Private rents are at an all-time high, evictions are rising and the cost of living crisis continues.”
Some politicians have pointed out that it’s a “grim politics” to “criminalise homeless charities for simply trying to keep vulnerable people warm and dry in winter”. The reference is to Ms Braverman’s plans to create a new civil offence to deter charities from giving tents to homeless people.
It is scarcely believable that someone who has power to do much good would employ it instead to hurt an already vulnerable section of our community. Unfortunately, Ms Braverman keeps to the Cruella de Vil caricature of her.