FEATURE: Northern Sky: Melodies Beneath a Cold Horizon: How Music Can Help the Homeless



Northern Sky:



Melodies Beneath a Cold Horizon: How Music Help the Homeless


CHRISTMAS provokes a number of images…

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PHOTO CREDIT: Scribbletaylor (Flickr)

and emotions in the average person. We all have that image of families gathered around a warm fire and presents stacked underneath the tree. There is the table teeming and blossoming with food and drink; the distant sound of carols and the T.V. flickering in the background – I am making it sound somewhat Dickensian, but you get the point! I want to raise a bittersweet point that has a musical component – but is aimed broadly at everyone who walks the street. Many musicians hit the streets this type of year to busk and get some pennies together for last-minute presents. Many rely on it for their income and need that injection of cash (hoverer modest) to pay the bills. It is a sad climate but there are few buskers out there who are beyond the remit of a traditional job and benefits – at the very worst; they have a home to go to and a warm bed to sleep in. It is a hard life being a musician but there are few out there who are so desperate they need to rely on busking to get any money in. My point is not to illuminate the tough industry and how hard many have to work to survive: I wanted to illustrate how music can benefit those in desperate need this time of year. It may be a direct form of performing to them or raising money to help them get back on their feet. The afflicted group I am side-stepping around is the homeless.


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

That may sound rather insensitive but that seems to be the common approach to the disadvantages who bunk-down in doorways and have to brave the sub-zero temperatures we experience this time of year. Even in a warmer month; the dangers associated with sleeping rough are insane – and the risk of injury/death is immense. The average person sleeping on the streets is exposed to verbal and physical abuse; the scorn and snootiness of the public; they look for donations and food but are often greeted with ignorant and an imperious countenance (translation: people can be complete c*nts). This plight has come into sharp focus because, where I live, there is an escalating problem. Many are losing their jobs and homes and find no recourse but to survive on the streets. They are often armed with little more than a rudimentary sleeping bag and a few meagre possessions. Throw into the bargain many have dogs – who are on the street with them – and it tugs at the heartstrings and angers the blood. It is not exactly a humanitarian crisis but there is an ill that needs addressing by the government. I walk around the streets of London (and Brighton) and see many homeless seeking the kindness of strangers; looking unwell and malnourished. It is upsetting not being able to help with any sufficiency – you cannot give money to all and there are so many out who sleep rough; you’d need to monitor them and continuously give them money – and seeing so many people treated like rubbish.


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The discarded and alienated are being given little respect and consideration; seen, by our elected, as non-entities and insignificant specs in their great plan. Although you cannot give attention and welfare to every person out there: one would hope the growing rise in homelessness would worry those who are being accused of dividing the nation. The recent tragedy at Grenfell has seen many of its residents left without a home and banished to the streets – this is a problem that persists and has garnered a lot of angry protests and vitriol. Before I come to the music-related point behind the issue; I wanted to bring in some statistics:

More than 300,000 people in Britain – equivalent to one in every 200 – are officially recorded as homeless or living in inadequate homes, according to figures released by the charity Shelter.

Using official government data and freedom of information returns from local authorities, it estimates that 307,000 people are sleeping rough, or accommodated in temporary housing, bed and breakfast rooms, or hostels – an increase of 13,000 over the past year.

London, where one in every 59 people are homeless, remains Britain’s homelessness centre. Of the top 50 local authority homelessness “hotspots”, 18 were in Greater London, with Newham, where one in 27 residents are homeless, worst hit.

However, while London’s homeless rates have remained largely stable over the past year, the figures show the problem is becoming worse in leafier commuter areas bordering the capital, such as Broxbourne, Luton, and Chelmsford.


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Big regional cities have also seen substantial year-on-year increases in the rate of homelessness. In Manchester, one in 154 people are homeless (compared with one in 266 in 2016); in Birmingham one in 88 are homeless (119); in Bristol one in 170 are affected (199).

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “It’s shocking to think that today, more than 300,000 people in Britain are waking up homeless. Some will have spent the night shivering on a cold pavement, others crammed into a dingy hostel room with their children. And what is worse, many are simply unaccounted for.

“On a daily basis, we speak to hundreds of people and families who are desperately trying to escape the devastating trap of homelessness. A trap that is tightening thanks to decades of failure to build enough affordable homes and the impact of welfare cuts”.

That gives you every piece of information you need: if you think homelessness is reserved to the capital and a dying sensation; you have food for thought and plenty of contrary information. One can barely imagine the stresses and pain someone on the street goes through. They have to beg for every meal and are exposed to devastating cold and the severity of the elements. There are kind members of the public but so many see the homeless as a cancer that needs to be eradicated. Many are dying in this weather and it brings it into sharp focus this type of year. Whilst many of us are enjoying time off and preparing for a feast over Christmas: in certain parts of the country; there are many who will go without and spend Christmas Day depressed, alone and forgotten.

Look at this article - and it seems shocking that countries like Finland have no homeless at all:

The country has eliminated homelessness through its "housing first" policy which offers people who need them permanent places to call home.

Following its success in the Scandinavian country, the scheme is about to be trialled in Liverpool, Manchester and the West Midlands”.

The fact that scheme is being rolled out in various parts of the U.K. is encouraging to see, at least. There are few practical measures the average person can do to cure homelessness and safeguard those rough sleepers where they live. I have been thinking about charitability and how Christmas, you’d hope, brings out the best in people. I am not embroidering the feature and painting the streets in any negative terms – the reality is stark and there need to be more affirmative and productive action. Musicians are a conscientious and communitive group - so it seems artists who willingly take to the streets to perform music can spend some time playing for the homeless. I see a lot of buskers round my way who are a few feet from homeless people. Whilst neither has a huge crowd around them; it seems there is something therapeutic about music. I am not suggesting every busker can make every homeless person happy all the time – and they would want to, indeed – but few people on the street get the chance to hear music and have people reach out to them.

I am not naïve enough to think music has curative powers and can shine a light that washes away the problems of homeliness. Music has its benefits and my unhappiness regarding the rise of homelessness leads to a need for people to come together and address the issue. I know there are benefit gigs and great charities out there (like Shelter) that raise funds and awareness to help ensure more people have somewhere to shelter. Whether that is a vital campaign or a series of concerts: musicians are a lot more moral and responsible than those we have elected to run the countries. I know people who actively get out on the streets and help the homeless. They provide money and comforting words; they provide a shoulder and do their bit. It is a commendable approach and I wish more people took the same attitude. I feel music alone has the ability to bring people together and something as simple as performing to a homeless person can make a huge difference. Musical donations go a long way so that long-abandoned C.D. Walkman or a radio can improve their day exponentially. My words do not arise out of personal guilt and privilege but the awareness there is a casual ignorance and divide when it comes to the better-off and poorer in society. My long-term aim, like every decent human, is we see an end to homelessness and accommodation offered to those in dire need. We are keen to over-populate the world and bring children into the world like rabbits – selfish in a way to think people procreate so provocatively without considering those who live here already!


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It is troubling seeing so many having to live on the streets and being ostracised by society. Music is not responsible for that problem but, rather than mourn and attack the government, we can recognise how small gestures, with a musical component, can make a difference in the life of a homeless person. Whether that is a busker providing some of their time; people donating their radios and older equipment – so that a homeless person can play the radio over Christmas – or organising concerts (alongside charity-run endeavours) to get funds together so we can help people find accommodation and make a better life for themselves. The same way I propose charitable movements and organisation to help counteract a disadvantage in society – I suggest minds are put together so we can help tackle homelessness. The charities out there are doing great work but the fact countries like Finland have found a solution (of sorts) means we are lagging behind. I have been shocked by the callous disregard many afford the homeless; how we do not even make eye contact and shun their pleas for time and affection. They are not trying to scam us (some are there to get money and not homeless; most are there because they need genuine help) and the fact most of us are going to spend Christmas in comfort should not be taken lightly. Any way musicians/musical-thinking people can assist this winter – as the nights get colder and crueller – will make a big difference. The passion and pride musicians have can certainly help and I think we all need to be a bit more aware of the problems we find on our streets. As we all prepare for familial and exciting Christmases; reflect on those less fortunate who will spend the big day on the streets and…



SPARE a thought for them.