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Oh a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away
Those lines open the lyrics to ‘Gimme Shelter’ one of the Rolling Stones iconic tracks on ‘Let it Bleed’ released in 1969. Shelter – such a comforting word. We swayed to it, we sang to it, we held up our hands and rocked to it – but we didn’t need it – not really – not Shelter – at least, not then. One way and another we had been sheltered all our lives – those of us at the rock concert, that is – a mixed bag of youth but with one thing in common – we all had a roof over our heads and a place to lay those same heads at night. Maybe Mum and Dad, maybe a sharing with a mate, maybe just a rented room, maybe we owned our own home – but it was somewhere safe and warm and ours. We scarcely had to give it a second thought.
The word ‘Shelter’ is a bonny word, a kind word, a word that can only be benign. It comes originally from the Middle English – the post-Conquest vernacular language of those fighting, storytelling people of these islands whose metaphors and tropes were generally about brave warriors warrioring – and it was originally about a roof of shields (scyld, scield) to protect the fighting men. Later, somewhere around the late 16C it had the action suffix ‘ure’ added and became shieldsure – and – eventually – the word we know today. It can mean anything from that important place to lay your head, to that more mundane somewhere to stay in, out of the rain, while you wait for a ‘bus.
In drama what could happen to ordinary people here, at home, in one of the richest countries in the world, when they were deprived of shelter was brought to life on the small screen by the visionary triumvirate of Ken Loach, Tony Garnett and Jeremy Sandford in the television play called ‘Cathy Come Home’ – broadcast in 1966 – see my previous blog. It was about a young couple with three children who – through no fault of their own – and unprotected by society – are made homeless. The couple are destroyed. They are on the scrapheap of life and treated more like inmates of a Victorian workhouse than a couple alive in the Swinging ‘Sixties. Their children are taken away and put in care.
Now – of those of us who swayed, sang and rocked to those lyrics in 1969 (still the golden time of blessed youth) I could almost dare to guarantee that among them there were those who would one day end up not just knowing the lyrics to that Stones’ hit – but really and truly needing the shelter they were written about. Things happen to the best of us, to the most promising, to the ordinary working man or woman, to the one-day happy next-day miserable teenager – Cathy shows us that they can happen to almost anyone (OK – not the Queen or Bankers or David Cameron’s ex-Downing Street staff) and if you are not to fall into a downward spiral you need someone to stop the fall. Until 1966 – apart from social services (who still seemed to work on the assumption that if you lost your home it was your own fault and you should pay for it by suffering further ignominy) there were no major charities devoted to helping the homeless. And that is where my chosen charity, ‘Shelter’ comes in. It opened its doors towards the end of 1966 and devoted itself to the homeless (the charity ‘Crisis’ also began that year – I think a little before Shelter both, surely, as a direct result of the Cathy film). Shelter, alas, is still going strong. Needed now more than ever, alack. Still. Yes. Still. Fifty years on. In 1966 as now – a lot of people are homeless and need Shelter.
Statistics represent people – but here are some numbers. There are separate statistics for Scotland.
In 2013/14 there were over 80,000 homeless households in England with nearly a third of those based in London.
In 2013 there were nearly 2,500 rough sleepers in England – the numbers rising all the time – so you can bet that by 2016 it’s a good deal higher.
In June 2014 there were 80,000 households with children living in temporary accommodation – that number went up by 13% between 2012 and 2014 – so you can be sure it has not gone down.
In 2013 there we just under 5000 homes that fell outside the ‘decent homes criteria’ – that won’t have gone down either.
Here’s a link to the Shelter website. Look for yourselves at what they do for people without Shelter – and what they are up against in their fight for the right to a roof and walls for everyone in this wealthy country. And then donate – or remember Shelter in your Will. Or both. And don’t worry about outliving the need. For it looks like, in this world of plenty, the homeless will continue to be the last in line.
Gimme Shelter… Oh yeah.