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Homelessness in the neoliberal city


At Novara Media, Alex Gabriel gives a first-person account of being homeless on the streets of London. Austerity and a crackdown on “quality of life” crimes has made it almost impossible for London’s homeless to find a place to use the bathroom at night or a place to catch a few hours of sleep. An excerpt:

They’re unexpectedly fraught, public loos. I don’t have cause to think about them much, but toilets are where police target queer men, where trans people are beaten and harassed, where forgetting wheelchair users becomes a conscious choice. Not long ago they were segregated by race and class , and it’s only recently, here and there, that they’ve been gender specific. (Ladies’ rooms, Soraya Chemaly notes, are still designed for men.) Public toilets I learn tonight, are also being hit by austerity.

Over the last decade, half the country’s conveniences have shut, with one in seven of those in service in 2010 gone by 2013, sacrificed by impoverished councils. By the new year, 600 more are expected to have closed. It recently emerged that due to London’s shortage and contracts denying them breaks, drivers for private taxi firm Uber are forced to carry spare bottles. Like them, I’m finding there’s nowhere to stop: signs at Victoria point to an all night loo nearby, only for notices to say the building shut at six. Whatever cut caused this, it must have happened recently…

TOTAL POLICING, the Met website bellows in muscular all caps: this is what those words mean. Total policing is the immune system of a political economy hiding its tracks, outlawing neediness instead of meeting human needs . It’s the long arm of the state girding bodily functions, removing places to keep warm, sit down, eat, sleep or shit, then arresting anyone who does so in the open. It’s what that tremor was along my spine, looking for private corners on streets cleansed of their homeless – the horror of my own anatomy becoming criminal.