In 2015, in the run up to the general election, the 999 Club participated in a campaign, Your Vote Matters. The event was co-ordinated by Homeless Link, to inform homeless people that they still had the right to vote, and to increase participation in democracy.
In front of a large audience of service users the candidates were each given a few minutes to say what they would do to tackle homelessness and, if elected, pledge to return to visit us and invite our service users to Parliament. Candidates then chatted to people informally over a buffet lunch.
Vicky Foxcroft MP, certainly keeps her promises. In January she came to visit us and invited service users to Westminster.
We recently visited the Houses of Parliament with Edward, Allen, Stuart, Jean and Revington, who have all stayed in our Winter Night Shelter. Vicky Foxcroft gave us a tour of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and we all listened eagerly as she explained her role as Whip and told us about the customary rules and procedures. At the end of the tour we took photos in the historic Westminster Hall, one part of the Palace of Westminster that was not destroyed in the 1834 fire. Revington said he felt that “It was a real privilege to go to the House of Commons and the House of Lords and to see all the history”. Allen remarked, “I enjoyed meeting with our MP. It was great doing something I would never normally get the chance to do in my life.”
Vicky applauded our initiative by saying, “I think that the 999 Club’s commitment to engaging their service users in the political process is fantastic”. She stressed that because homeless people can feel “left out of the political process” they need to know about their right to vote, and with that vote comes the opportunity to influence important policies.
Reflecting on our visit, Edward, the youngest in our group at 23, felt quite empowered, claiming that, “being an MP is a possibility for me—I could speak for people.” What hope for the future.
Noting his new found interest in politics, we thought of Edward when we were invited to send one delegate and one service user to another hustings, this time organised by the Lead London Home consortium, a campaign set up to put Homelessness and Rough Sleeping on the agenda for the London Mayoral and Assembly Elections. Representatives of the five major parties made up the panel.
Edward thought up his question carefully and spent the bus journey and the minutes before the meeting carefully rehearsing his question, that he wanted to get just right.
His moment came and he stated that as a young person there was no system in place to help him when he was homeless compared to if he was unemployed when there is a whole raft of support available through Job Centres. He asked candidates what system they would put in place to help future homeless young people. A policy worker whispered ‘good question’ but the politicians did not appear to understand or make a coherent reply.
He is still waiting for someone to give him a satisfactory answer. Maybe the new Mayor Khan will provide one.