My Dad first came to London in the 1950s to escape the poverty of rural Ireland. Even though he struggled to make ends meet, finding ad hoc work as a builder, he regularly told me and my siblings how lucky he was to always have the means to pay for a bed for the night. He qualified this by telling us stories of other men who weren’t so lucky. These men, who could only spare a ‘penny for the line’, spent their nights slumped in a line over a long rope to keep them off the floor.
Throughout my career in the housing sector, from working as a housing rights advisor in a London law centre in the 1980s, to sitting on Housing Association boards, the image of people so hard up they have to pay to sleep out in the cold bent over a rope, has stayed with me.
As a housing officer, the most satisfying things you can do is hand someone the keys to a safe, secure place to live. The stability of a good home ripples through the rest of society, creating stronger communities and improving the chances of younger generations to live full and happy lives. But for too long too many people in this country have gone without this basic need. At times, when witnessing the meteoric rise in rough sleeping over the past decade, talking to young families stuck in atrocious temporary accommodation or reading stories of households forced to move hundreds of miles from where they grew up, the situation has left me feeling distressed.
But success isn’t born out of pessimism. As I start my role as Chair of Trustees at Homeless Link, I feel hopeful. We don’t yet have all the signs that the Government will address the fundamental causes of homelessness. But the staggering work of homelessness organisations, public health and local government to bring Everyone In during the pandemic showed us that rough sleeping is not an inevitable part of society, that, with the right application of resources and commitment, everyone can have a safe place to live. Now we must build on this success.
In representing such a broad array of members, Homeless Link is in a unique position to carry the voice of the sector, as well as influencing and improving homelessness practice across the country. Seeing trends and issues emerge in real time through our members, while being guided by those with lived experience, will be critical to building on the work of the pandemic. That’s why, in the new year (COVID allowing) I plan to make multiple visits to see the work of members first hand.
Coupled with this, our commercial revenue is vitally important to underpin our independence to campaign boldly for change. The success of In-Form and the quality of our training, events and consultancy services is critical to achieving our goal of everyone having a safe place to live and the support they need to maintain it.
Beyond my experience in the housing and homelessness sector, I have been a life long champion for equality and valuing, diversity. Events over recent years have rightly placed this issue at the forefront of minds across the world. I was chair of an Irish Housing Association for many years, forming a key part of the BME Housing Association groups. I am also a trustee at Refugee Council, with the struggle for destitute migrants representing the sharpest end of homelessness. But I have also seen how refugees are some of the most resourceful, brave and resilient people you will ever meet. That’s why I want Homeless Link to work side by side with community groups, learning from one another in solidarity.
As I start my tenure, I would like to warmly thank Piers Feilden, who I will be replacing, for his phenomenal work over the past six years and say to the rest of Homeless Link’s staff and members that I am so proud to be joining you all.
The image of people slumped over a rope remains as fresh in my mind today as it did when I was child. Campaigning for good quality housing as a basic human right drives me on, working with the brilliant team at Homeless Link, our wonderful members and being inspired by those with lived experience is how together we will end homelessness for good.