Last night Ross Kemp displayed a revealing and shocking look at the harsh reality of homelessness in the UK with his prime-time ITV documentary Ross Kemp: Living With Homelessness.
The ex-Eastenders star spent time sleeping rough in a tent in Cardiff on the coldest night in seven years, sat virtually ignored on the high street and stayed in the Welsh capital’s biggest homeless hostel The Huggard Centre.
Kemp also tracked down a rough sleeper where, according to official counts, there should be none – meeting Ebenezer Goode in homelessness minister Heather Wheeler’s constituency in South Derbyshire.
The only person who spoke to me on the street was someone who wanted to sell me spice #RossKempLivingWith
— Ross Kemp (@RossKemp) July 25, 2019
Here’s five take aways from the hard-hitting documentary:
- We need a more accurate method of counting the number of rough sleepers
Kemp could scarcely hide his bemusement when he heard about the “complete joke” results of Northumberland County Council’s one-night count that uncovered zero rough sleepers.
And he was similarly puzzled by a statement from Wheeler’s office saying that a count of zero rough sleepers “does not mean that there are no rough sleepers in the area”.
He is pretty clear on the fact that we need to change how we count rough sleepers though, especially as the current count is used to determine funding given to local authorities to tackle the issue.
Kemp told The Big Issue: “If someone says to me you’ve got cancer then you want to know where it is, what kind it is, how progressive it is before you can treat that.
“Without knowing the true size of the issue, how can you begin to put the right money or the right plans in place to solve it? It’s impossible.”
- Homelessness hits families of rough sleepers just as hard as the person who is homeless themselves
While visiting the Huggard Centre, Kemp meets 25-year-old Nathan who is a drug addict and has been homeless since he was 14. Nathan then takes Kemp to meet his father, mechanic David, who is on his daily 40-mile round trip to give Nathan cash to survive. It left the TV star visibly moved.
Kemp told The Big Issue: “It goes to show the impact that sleeping rough has on families and how it tears them apart. His dad is giving him £50 a day, making that journey because he loves his son and he doesn’t want his son to get in more trouble than he already is and he’s tried so many things and nothing is working. That was very telling for me as a dad.”
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
- There is no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with homelessness
Ending rough sleeping is not just as easy as building more shelters. Kemp’s night spent sleeping at the Huggard Centre showed him the difficulties that many homeless people face in shelters where they cannot get support for their specialist needs. That disgusts the television presenter who remarks about a woman with cerebral palsy in the shelter: “She shouldn’t be here sleeping on a floor. She needs serious care. They just can’t cater for the different needs that exist here, it’s impossible.” However Kemp was effusive in his praise for staff at the centre.
Thank you to @RossKemp for visiting us and for his programme about people who are homeless and vulnerable. If you would like to know more about what we do and why – please follow us on Twitter. There is also information on our website https://t.co/UlOAO39xYJ
— Huggard (@HuggardCentre) July 25, 2019
4. There is too much reliance on community goodwill to solve homelessness
Kemp looked visibly unnerved when he heard rustling while staying in a tent in snowy Cardiff.
This demonstrates the vulnerability of rough sleepers, who are open to attack and, indeed, Kemp later noted the rise in violence against homeless people on the streets in recent times.
But in this case, it wasn’t a threat, but instead it was selfless Andy Webb. He has spent the last 40 years getting up in the middle of the night to feed homeless people and protect them from the cold.
Kemp told The Big Issue: “We had no fucking idea he was going to turn up and there he was in the coldest night in seven years. What a guy.
“But we can’t rely on charity, especially when we are paying our taxes. We need to be addressing this properly and head-on and that doesn’t seem to be happening.”
- Speak to homeless people – it could make all the difference
We’re always telling our readers to speak to Big Issue vendors out there working hard selling the magazine in all weathers. Kemp was handed a good example of exactly why when he spent time sat at the side of Cardiff’s bustling high street and was ignored for four hours, aside from being offered Spice.
“When I’m out and about, I rarely get ignored,” said Kemp. “I’m used to being acknowledged either positively or negatively. It was very interesting for me as a human being to be totally unengaged for those three to four hours.”