This account of homelessness in Britain today tells the horrific, heart-breaking, and politically enraging stories of some fellow human beings too many of us choose not to see. It proves beyond any doubt that any of us could find ourselves homeless and struggling to survive, or even become one of the hundreds of people who have died on our streets over the past decade. McClenaghan is an award-winning journalist who deserves to win more awards for this expose, which also comes with suggestions for how we can all help alleviate a parlous national situation. Now 17th September 2020.
There are glimmers of hope. McClenaghan writes about the heroic local organisations and individuals dedicated to offering support. And she finds some experiments that seem to work. The most successful of them is Housing First, launched in Amsterdam, where the government offers a pot of money to the council, which divvies it up on rent, bills and repayment plans for the fines rough sleepers often accumulate. The results have been striking: 93 per cent were still in their houses a year after joining the scheme.
As we enter the first Covid winter, and after a former UN special rapporteur declared housing “the frontline defence against the coronav
One of the great strengths of No Fixed Abode is that McClenaghan tells the story in part as her own journey to grapple with the human tragedy of homelessness and homeless deaths. Importantly, however, she never becomes the subject of the book. The men and women left to die in the cold are always at the very centre of her narrative. Wherever possible she gives voice to people without a home. Where this is not possible, we hear from those closest to them. Of course the story told in No Fixed Abode is not unique to Britain. As you read every single page you could be talking about Dublin or Cork or Belfast.
McClenaghan does a good job of bringing to life the stories of the people she describes, using interviews with support workers to build rounded portraits of people in crisis. In doing so she identifies both long-term untreated issues such as grief, PTSD and addiction, and short-term inflection points. The importance of care – both sustained and professional, and amateur and spontaneous – is obvious, particularly in its frequent absence. Even in the midst of crisis there is contingency, as there was for David Tovey, who was about to overdose before the intervention of a park warden. Tovey recovered and eventually flourished – he is now working as a professional artist – but crucially he did so living in his own flat, available only because he is a military veteran.