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Wednesday, 8 June 2016

What homeless people?

Graffiti has long piqued my interest, but it wasn't until 2 years ago - when my mum was seriously ill in hospital with cancer and I was in the process of splitting up with my boyfriend of 8 years - that it resonated more deeply. Sitting on the top of a bus going god knows where, I saw the white rolled-on word, 'HOPE' emblazoned across the red brickwork opposite St Pancras station: It did give me hope.

HOPE is dotted around North London.
My mum survived hospital and I survived the breakup, but still I found myself searching out HOPE across North London. Later on, graffiti would have an unexpected and pivotal role in my life: I was writing an article about the topic for a local newspaper and had gone to visit a piece in Camden, which was next to a bank - on the wall of what someone had told me was a squat.

I'd never been inside a squat before, but as I was looking up at Mau Mau's 'Get Rich Or Try Sharing', the door opened. I asked if I could go up on their roof to get a decent photograph of the graffiti - they said yes. We had a long conversation and I realised that these particular squatters were politically active and socially aware. We exchanged numbers.

After that I became more involved - first it was writing about open days and community events in various squats, then I began to work on a more detailed article about homelessness and the underuse of wasted spaces and empty buildings. Finally I found myself deeply involved in a social project which ran parallel to my own documentary - now called 'Get Rich Or Try Sharing'.

Well placed: Mau Mau painted this between a squat and a bank
Graffiti has a long history of offering social and political commentary - Banksy was really nothing new; right time, right places, clever angle. I find that once you start noticing graffiti, you begin to read a city in a new way. Subtle scribbles and clever artwork can reflect and reveal a city's character. In the same way it can provide a real insight into the issues and concerns faced by those who live there; just this week The Independent ran an article about a piece of graffiti in Syria which has been shared throughout the world for its simple truth, "When I leave, be sure I tried everything in my power to stay".
Picture stolen from The Independent
Perhaps the power behind graffiti is this very immediacy and truth. Usually graffiti isn't selling us something, isn't sponsored by someone and hasn't been manipulated by the media. Often it merely makes an observation or encourages thought.

One such example appeared last night on a boarded up doorway in Kentish Town. It reads simply, 'What homeless people?' Whilst this may be confusing out of context, residents of Kentish Town will know that this particular doorway had sheltered at least 2 homeless people from the wind and rain for several months. There has been a noticeable increase in homelessness on the streets of Kentish Town and locals responded by giving food and other essentials.

Boarding up this sheltered doorway hasn't solved anything.
Covering up a problem doesn't make it go away: by boarding up this doorway, the causes of homelessness haven't been miraculously solved - instead, vulnerable people have again lost access to that basic right to shelter.

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