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'Shock to the system' event at Union Chapel will offer community-led solutions to homelessness

PUBLISHED: 11:40 04 October 2019 | UPDATED: 12:03 04 October 2019

Winter Shelter Bed. An item from the Museum of Homelessness' collection. Picture: Daniel Moss and Sean Richardson

Winter Shelter Bed. An item from the Museum of Homelessness' collection. Picture: Daniel Moss and Sean Richardson

Archant

Do we have a homeless problem or a problem with homeless people? An event at Union Chapel will ask just that, as well as screening a documentary about the making of a shelter and putting on performances from the Museum of Homelessness.

Museum of Homelessness' Objectified immersive theatre performance in 2018. Picture: Joel FildesMuseum of Homelessness' Objectified immersive theatre performance in 2018. Picture: Joel Fildes

The Museum of Homelessness (MoH) will bring powerful stories of life on the streets to Union Chapel on Sunday next week.

World Homelessness Week will be marked by a "shock to the system" event at the Compton Terrace church from 3pm to 6.30pm.

It's free but ticketed and everyone is urged to attend and then go and do something to help address inequality in their community.

Expect immersive theatre performances from MoH, panels offering solutions to the homelessness crisis and a film premiere on the making of Street's Kitchen's Glass House solidarity shelter in Hornsey Road earlier this year.

Museum of Homelessness'  State of the Nation immersive theatre performance at the Tate. Picture: Neil RajaMuseum of Homelessness' State of the Nation immersive theatre performance at the Tate. Picture: Neil Raja

This provided a blueprint for how society can use empty buildings to accommodate homeless people.

Jess Turtle, who co-founded MoH with her husband Matt in 2017, told the Gazette: "We will be sharing unique objects from our collection and the accompanying stories which really show the humanity, compassion and relationships people go through during homelessness."

The stories also touch on some of the "solutions that are possible when communities work together to tackle crisis", Jess added.

Three objects will be centre stage at Union Chapel. One is a winter shelter bed MOH collected in 2017; the others are a walking stick and baby's bottle both procured last year.

The bottle. An item from the Museum of Homelessness' collection. Picture: Steve BrownThe bottle. An item from the Museum of Homelessness' collection. Picture: Steve Brown

"It's a really powerful story," she added, "which shows some of the terrible things that people, particularly single mothers, are going through because of the ways the system's set up at the moment."

Paid storytellers tell the objects' tales on behalf of their owners, in their own words.

Jess added: "The reason we came up with this idea of telling stories? It's very different to museums with labels."

Items on display at traditional museums are labelled - but the homeless people who donated object to MoH are fed up of being spoken for and put in a box.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA Wire.Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA Wire.

"So we have this theatrical thing," Jess said, "when the story is told in exact words of the people who have been there and are there."

The MoH currently has a creative residency at the former Clerkenwell fire station, in Rosebery Avenue, where the Outside Project has set up a community centre and hostel for homeless people from the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex) community.

It's the first specialist LGBTQI+ homeless shelter in the country and opened in May with the council and Sadiq Khan's blessing.

MOH has toured the likes of Tate Liverpool and Manchester Art Gallery, and the items in its collection come from all over the UK. Reflecting on why she founded MoH with Matt, Jess said: "There is all this material, and it's a hidden history for a reason - as a society, homeless people are hidden or ignored. We felt starting up a museum was a way to raise awareness and get people to talk about change.

Changed Times film poster for documentary about making of the Glass House Solidarity Shelter. Picture: Nina BumbalkovaChanged Times film poster for documentary about making of the Glass House Solidarity Shelter. Picture: Nina Bumbalkova

"From the beginning it has been a social justice mission with the experience of people who are homeless or have been homeless at the heart of it."

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Jess's personal experience of homelessness started at birth. She was raised in a community of homeless people set up by her parents in the 1970s and 1980s in Cardiff - a community which evolved to become the Wallich charity which helps homeless people across Wales every day.

She said: "That's where I was born and that was our family. That's why I think community-led projects like Streets Kitchen and the Outside Project are the answer. That's why we are committed to what's happening in Islington - it's definitely the way to go.

"Community-led solutions saved my family and allowed us to survive."

She said the Union Chapel event will be another solution-orientated gathering.

"I think it would be fair for Museum of Homelessness to say we were really keen to work in Islington because of its work to tackle homelessness and housing polices. We are very happy to be in the borough."

Streets Kitchen coordinator Jon Glackin told the Gazette: "We have to work together to tackle homelessness in these times of severe austerity.

"We have to work together in solidarity and the solution lies in the community coming together."

He added that Sunday's event "shows the depth of goodwill that exists in Islington to address homelessness. "There's a joined-up approach," he added. "No one group has an answer. We have to share resources because times are bad."

Political response

Labour leader and Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn told the Gazette: "The homelessness crisis that we see on our streets is a direct result of Tory cuts. The number of people who are living - and even dying - on our streets is truly disgraceful.

"I am proud to represent a community that comes together to tackle the homelessness crisis and support those who are homeless, whether they are a family living in temporary accommodation or someone sleeping on our streets.

"Homelessness only becomes inevitable when a government sells off council homes, refuses to build the houses we need and encourages the development of luxury flats which stand empty as they're acquired purely as investment opportunities by the very richest.

"Instead of walking on by we need to support homeless people. They all have a story, they can all teach us something about the world and in many cases they have experienced huge difficulties and trauma in their lives. We should listen to them, not stigmatise them.

"As well as supporting the homelessness charities that do so much vital work in our community and across our country, what we need is a Labour government that will take this crisis seriously and tackle it.

"Labour will end rough sleeping, immediately buy thousands of empty properties for homeless people to move into and tackle the housing crisis by building the homes that our country needs. We will build one million genuinely affordable and social homes over ten years, end the sell off of social homes and redefine the meaning of 'affordable' housing so it is linked to incomes, not sky-high rents."

Islington's housing chief Cllr Diarmaid Ward added: "The shock to the system event brings together all the best of Isington, as a borough we are puling together to tackle homelessness.

"The homelessness crisis has its roots in a decade of government austerity. Cuts to services, the housing benefit cap, no commitment to helping us build council homes, and a failure to regulate London's cowboy private rented sector have all played their part.

"But Islington as a community is fighting back. Everyone is welcome at this wonderful event."

You can get tickets here.

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