Today activists from Birmingham Food not Bombs saw a dramatic decrease in the number of homeless people attending the weekly food distribution outside the Radision hotel on Holloway circus roundabout. Turnout dropping from 30-40 people to less than 10 within an week. Talking to the few who did turn up, it was discovered that the police have been following them around and arresting them, with one person reporting six of his friends
being arrested in total this week. Many think the week’s arrests are part of an on-going operation started by West Midlands police earlier in the summer to crack down on begging in Birmingham city centre.
Birmingham has the highest rate of homelessness in the country and has seen a 25% increase since 2009, a direct correlation with the 29% drop in spending on homelessness.
Harassing and arresting the homeless for begging is counterproductive, time in prison only makes the homeless less employable and more marginalised. Birmingham police are not actually helping the homeless problem they are simply driving them out of the city and city center. “moving it elsewhere” helps no one and “out of site out of mind” attitude is dangerous way to treat the most vulnerable in society.
Birmingham has the highest rate of homelessness in the country and the West Midlands the highest rate of any region outside of London. With hostels and housing services struggling to keep up with the demand for shelter and support due to average funding cuts of 15% and the loss of 1 in 10 staff the people most in need of support, often with mental illness or substance abuse are not getting the help they need. On top of this the government has forced though a law to make squatting residential properties illegal (despite Birmingham having 11,924 empty homes) meaning there is currently a real homeless crisis in Birmingham that could get a lot worse. Especially if the 34,000 people in Birmingham who claim housing benefit find they cannot afford to pay the rent as Housing Benefit is slowly replaced by Local Housing Allowance and cuts to child tax credits go ahead.
Graffiti - Homeless person - We're not all in it together
Food not Bombs will be providing a free vegan meal at the Welfare & Benefits Conference in Birmingham on Tuesday 10th July as our way of supporting and showing solidarity with people on benefits who are facing cuts to the benefits they receive. This is especially important after the events of last week where a man set himself on fire outside Selly Oak job centre, as desperation set in following problems with benefit payments, and the news that a Birmingham man who suffered from a heart condition died of a heart attack just weeks after being found fit for work by ATOS.
The free conference is being run by grassroots claimant group, Boycott Workfare, runs from 9:30am – 5:30pm at Unite the Union, 211 Broad Street, Birmingham, B15 2AY. the conference is free and you do not need to book – just turn up for the day or whichever sessions you can make. The full timetable is available here.
Birmingham Food not Bombs is now operating out of the Birmingham Social Centre. We start cooking food at 10:00am Sunday at the Social Centre then hand out the food at 13:00 at Holloway Circus roundabout outside the Radison hotel.
Food Not Bombs is a voluntary grass-roots collective which believes in DIY ethics and free food. Food should be a right, not a privilege. The idea is to share vegetarian / vegan food with anyone who wants it in Birmingham. So much good food goes to waste in this city, it’d be a shame not to cook it up and eat it.
Birmingham Food Not Bombs would like to issue a statement of solidarity to all groups and people around the world who have been arrested for sharing food with the hungry. There’s been a worrying trend recently in America of new laws being introduced to prevent free food being given out to the hungry which has resulted in many people being arrested and held for days in prison. There has been a call out for people around the world to consider sharing free meals in celebration of our right to food on Sunday 1st April. Food is a right not a privilege.
The first arrest for sharing food in Orlando, Florida
Our capitalist society and culture is a shockingly energy intensive and wasteful one. The indirect relationship between producer and consumer (all the extra layers on top of the producer) means most people have no idea how much energy goes into making the product. With food for example the farmer is the first level where the food is grown (and modern farming is extremely energy intensive), the raw food then gets transported to a factory to be processed, then it is packaged and finally transported to a supermarket before the consumer finally sees it. This cycle involves a lot of fossil fuel consumption, the pesticides and fertilisers are derived from fossil fuel, the farming machinery runs on fossil fuel, so does the transport to the factory, the factory itself, the plastic packaging, the supermarket and freezers and the consumers car. (not forgetting that during this process transportation could include being shipped / flown halfway round the world several times)
The tragedy of all this is that despite all that energy used \ CO2 released, a sizeable portion of it will be needlessly wasted. In the UK we throw away 7.2 million tonnes (£10.2bn) of food from our homes every year. It is estimated that this costs the average household £400 a year which accumulates to £15,000–£24,000 over a lifetime. £1bn worth of food wasted in the UK is food that is still “in date”. Going back to the food \ energy cycle which accounts for about one fifth of UK carbon emissions, if all this waste were to be cut out it would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 5 cars off the road.
On Sunday Birmingham Food not Bombs put on its second event, we were distributing free food from 1:00pm onwards in Pigeon Park (St Philips Cathedral). This weeks menu consisted of two different varieties of vegan curry with rice, tea, coffee, dates, bread and biscuits. At 3:00 we decided to move to the peace gardens behind the new library where the Occupy Birmingham Camp has moved to so we could feed the protesters and any visitors to the camp. We’ll be back in two weeks.
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