The Price of Experience? A despatch from the Birmingham “Destitute for a Day” fundraiser

A Priceless Experience

What is the price of experience? Do men buy it for a song?

Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No, it is bought with the price

Of all a man hath, his house, his wife, his children.

Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy,

And in the wither’d field where the farmer plows for bread in vain.

William Blake

Destitute for a day, well, not quite a full 24 hour day, and not quite destitute, as we all had a pound to spend, but quite long enough to feel completely powerless, as the hopelessness that accompanies complete lack of control over any aspect of your life slowly overwhelms you. Also an emergency phone number to call should an emergency emerge, and an ironical bottle of drinking water, a compulsory health and safety issue bottle of water. So better off already, not allowed, by law, to be as destitute as the people, whose plight we were trying to highlight. Not allowed to be as destitute by law by the same administration who uses enforced destitution as a way of controlling its Asylum process, allowing a Ministers of State to explain how he is tough on asylum seekers as he panders and perpetuates the myths and lies of the right wing press.

This was a priceless experience; a glimpse of what destitution is really like. For most of the participants destitution was a word they would write on forms with an uneasy regularity, something they might see their clients suffering the effects of, falling asleep in the unaccustomed warmth of their offices, or coughing uncontrollably as they filled in another form, with the vain hope of gaining some respite from the relentless struggle to find food and shelter, outcaste from, and invisible to, the population of one of the richest countries in the world, prevented from working to support themselves, prevented from receiving any financial support from any government agency. Prevented from conducting their life with any sense of dignity, forced to beg for a destitution handouts.

“No recourse to public funds.”

Five words of jargon that mean little to the man on the street but mean everything to the man who lives on the street. Five words that mean you are barred from the multitude of homeless hostels that are there for other destitute people, other destitute people that have one small thing you don’t have, a priceless number that provides a social safety net, a national insurance number.

Without that you are banished to a shadowy nether world, where each waking hour becomes a waking nightmare, where hours last like days, and weeks stretch to an unbearable infinity. You see the world through a window that on one side has you and your hunger, your thirst, your need for a bed, a bed that does not double during the day as a: phone box, or a bus shelter, or a toilet. On the other of the glass, (an invisible but impenetrable divide) a thin filament that prevents you access to the small things that others people find so routine, so ordinary that they probably don’t notice them, just like they don’t notice you. A cup of tea, a choice of which sandwich for lunch, a cup of soup, a bus ticket, a train ticket, shoes that don’t leak, hair that doesn’t need cutting, an aspirin for a headache, a phone call home, or even the simple but necessary pleasure of seeing your children smile.

The base line of bearable existence is not filled with wants or desires, the baseline of necessity for a  bearable existence is hewn from need, a basic need for food, a drink, and somewhere safe and dry to sleep: things that are not necessary because they are an invention of the modern age, they are the same needs that the first man had as he grew upright and strove to provide these things for his fellow humans. Well, until now, in one of the most affluent countries on the planet, where we pro-actively deny people drink food and shelter when they seek sanctuary on our shores. Please don’t tell me we are not affluent, as we rejoice in an opulence beyond the dreams of most sanctuary seekers: I have spent the day watching thousand upon thousand of people filling their bags with all manner of useless beauty that is so very far removed from anything that might be considered to be part of the baseline of bearable existence.

Yet we live in a society that constructively denies the baseline of existence to those with out a national insurance number, we illegally deny this to their children, to the sick, the aged, the depressed. Some boast of this, some are proud to be “tough on asylum” tough on the fall out from their battles, tough on the fallout from their policies, tough on the fall out from the machinations of multi nationals, that provoke corruption and in fighting, that tear apart their home countries, so escape to sanctuary is the only option.

“It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity,

Thus could I sing and thus rejoice: but it is not so with me”

If it is not so with you, if want to read more, if you want to donate, or you just want to explore the truth, or even volunteer with one of the agencies trying to help, there are links a plenty are beneath the rest of the William Blake poem. It was written in 1797, what kind of progress is this?

It is an easy thing to triumph in the summer’s sun

And in the vintage and to sing on the waggon loaded with corn.

It is an easy thing to talk of prudence to the afflicted,

To speak the laws of prudence to the houseless wanderer,

To listen to the hungry raven’s cry in wintry season

When the red blood is fill’d with wine and with the marrow of lambs.

It is an easy thing to laugh at wrathful elements,

To hear the dog howl at the wintry door, the ox in the slaughterhouse moan;

To see a god on every wind and a blessing on every blast;

To hear sounds of love in the thunder-storm and destroys our enemies’ house;

To rejoice in the blight that covers his field, and the sickness that cuts off his children,

While our olive and vine sing and laugh round our door, and our children bring fruits and flowers.

Then the groan and the dolour are quite forgotten, and the slave grinding at the mill,

And the captive in chains, and the poor in the prison, and the soldier in the field

When the shatter’d bone hath laid him groaning among the happier dead.

It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity:

Thus could I sing and thus rejoice: but it is not so with me.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/jun/16/asylum-seekers-survive-on-streets

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/jun/16/asylum-charity-food-red-cross

Birmingham’s Refugee Council office are are running the Destitution Fundraiser ‘It’s only 10 hours’ again on Saturday 19th June.

As with last year they are asking people to sponsor the event and I now have the link to the online donation site where you can donate your sponsorship money. Please click on the link below. To gift aid it do not tick the box which states ‘Tick here if you would like to remain anonymous to the charity’

https://www.charitychoice.co.uk/donation.asp?ref=159413

The money raised through sponsoring this event will go to directly helping those asylum seekers or refugees facing destitution, as it will be going to the Hope Destitution Fund and Coventry Peace House, in a 50:50 split. The online donation site has been set up by Coventry Peace House especially for the fundraiser, we are
asking people to donate to this site until the cut off point of 17th July 2010 (one month after the event) then all the money collected will be split 50:50 between the 2 charities. So it is vitally important that all funds raised must be donated by this date.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with what happened last year, participants in the event will be spending 10 hours in Birmingham with only £1 to spend throughout the whole day. This challenge should give everyone a valuable insight into what destitution would feel like, increasing empathy, knowledge and raising awareness.

ASIRT’s clients benefit hugely from these two charities, who offer vital sources of support to some of the most marginalised people in the region, so I hope you will want to get involved. You can do this firstly by participating on the day and getting sponsorship for the event. Can you please let me know by the end of this week whether you will be participating? If you don’t want or can not participate, you can also get involved by obtaining sponsorship for the event by promoting the online donation site. Manual spopnsorship forms will also be available in due course.

Please forward this to anyone else you feel may be interested.

DESTITUTION

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of destitution is ‘extreme poverty and lacking the means to provide for oneself’.Everyone has the right to claim asylum under the 1951 Geneva Convention. Many of those that claim asylum will find themselves destitute…

Many asylum seekers within the UK are forced into destitution when their claims for asylum are turned down. The way we treat these individuals is a blight upon the proud record this country has of providing for those who come to the UK in search of sanctuary.

When asylum seekers become destitute they rely upon charities, families and friends to support them. Those forced into destitution can lead to physical and mental health issues and increased vulnerability (especially for those with existing health conditions)

In order to raise awareness for destitute asylum seekers the Refugee Council in Birmingham is running a fundraising event on Saturday 19th June 2010.

IT IS ONLY TEN HOURS…
We will be spending ten hours in the centre of Birmingham with nothing more than a £1 per person to spend. 10 hours is a long time to survive with only £1. Where would you go? What would you do? How would you feel? Now imagine this was for days or weeks or months on end…

On the 19th June 2010, participants will meet at the Refugee Council in Birmingham at 9am. We will put keep everyone’s possessions (wallet, money, mobile phone, cigarettes etc) in a safe place and give each participant £1 to spend throughout the day. This is the only money they will have access to!

We will split participants into groups and give them specific tasks throughout the day relating to destitution and awareness raising including finding out what services there are in Birmingham for destitute asylum seekers and refugees.

During Refugee Week Refugee Council is running the ‘simple acts’ campaign- by doing one or move simple acts we can change the way refugees and british born people see each other (http://www.refugeeweek.org.uk/simple-acts/). Participants will be doing a number of these simple acts through the day.
We will finish the day at 7pm where all possessions will be handed back to participants.

Why are we doing this?
This event will raise awareness around destitution and the provisions available for destitute asylum seekers in Birmingham. It will also allow people to have a unique perspective into what destitution may feel like.
By sponsoring this event you are sponsoring the event itself rather than individual participants. The money raised will go to directly helping those asylum seekers or refugees facing destitution, as it will be going to BLC’s Hope Destitution Fund and Coventry Peace House, in a 50:50 split.
BLC’s Hope Destitution Fund assists destitute asylum-seekers and some others barred from “recourse to public funds” in and around Birmingham, over the past six years the Fund has raised and distributed more than half a million pounds. We refer many of our most vulnerable destitute clients to receive support from this fund.

Coventry Peace House is a basic night shelter which relies on charitable donations to continue to run. It is a place we can refer destitute clients to get food and shelter.

The online donation site has been set up by Coventry Peace House especially for the fundraiser, we are asking people to donate to this site until the cut off point of 17th July 2010 (one month after the event) then all the money collected will be split 50:50 between the 2 charities. So it is vitally important that all funds raised must be donated by this date.
To sponsor this event visit https://www.charitychoice.co.uk/donation.asp?ref=159413
All the money you sponsor will be split between the two charities and gift aid is added for UK taxpayers.

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=115503785670&ref=mf

http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/

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