Unfair situation (1)

I am going to be writing whenever i see an injustice or a gap in provision particularly for mental health issues and the homeless. It is why i started this petition and i would urge you to sign it if you havent yet done so.

However an event happened a couple of weeks ago and i have got the permission of the rough sleeper involved to share his story. I am going to change his name to BOB so he cant be recognised.

Bob was checked out for free by a paramedic who advised him he had cellulitis and needed to see a doctor because he had an open wound because of this. The following morning the rough sleeper went to the practice nurse who told him he needed a particular course of medicine as otherwise there was a real possibility that it could turn to septicimia if untreated. She wrote him out a prescription when BOB stopped her and told her that he had no benefits and so couldnt pay for the prescription. The practice nurse said that this was no problem and that she would write a letter for him to hand to the pharmacist explaining the situation and the urgent need for this medicine. Bob thanked her and went to collect his medicine.

Bob eventually got to the pharmacy and he handed over the note and the prescription but was told by the pharmacy that without paying for it then he couldnt have the medicine. Bob said that the note explained everything about how urgent it was. The pharmacist said that if he didnt have enough money to pay then he will have to go to council to apply for an ELF fund (this is for clothing and furniture). So he thanked them and went to the council.

He was then refused the chance to fill in the ELF fund and told that he could apply for a hardship fund but they do not deal in cash and it would take 2 or 3 weeks if he was successful. He was treated very rudely at the council and came away fuming. He walked down to one of the places i work where he relayed this story to a local church minister. The minister rang the pharmacy and again got nowhere so thought he would phone the council. Now this minister is even more patient and laid back than me and he phoned the council explaining he was a minister and was present when the paramedic had said tghat the situation was urgent. He came off the phone absolutely furious at how rudely he had been treated and again the council told him they couldnt help this guy. In the end the church stepped in and paid for the prescription because of the potential ill harm it could have caused BOB.

2 things struck me from the above tale, firstly was the fact that two people complained about how rudely they were spoken to but the main thing is about how short sighted the system is. I know that you cant give out drugs willy nilly but Bob had a note from the practice nurse so they could see he was genuine he was. Also if his health had deteriorated and the church hadnt stopped in then the cost of possibly an ambulance, his treatment, the hopsital bed etc would have far outweighed the cost of the prescription.

Something needs to change and i will be investigating to see how we can stop this happening in the future.




Homeless humans

So, any of  you who know me know that i spend a lot of time with the homeless in our town. It is a subject that is close to my heart. A few years ago i wrote  a series of 3 blogs on the subject (unfortunately because i didnt use the site for so long, wordpress deleted the site so i cant link them for you) and this week I was asked for my opinion about the homeless community by a member of the SOS bus as his sister is part of a drama group about to produce a play about homelessness. I have also been asked to speak at a local boys brigade section this week and i read an interesting letter from Green Party candidate Jason Pilling in today’s Echo (i partly agree with what he says although I disagree housing should be a priority. I don’t think there should be a priority when working with the homeless and that yes he is right shelter is important but I have seen too many people be housed and because their mental health issues/lack of life skills/addiction issues have not been addressed they very quickly lose that housing –  shelter is important but i think the support is just as important and if not applied then housing becomes a sticky plaster that temporarily covers the wound but soon disappears and the wound is left exposed once more. I believe both should go hand in hand). All this has prompted me to write a blog on the issue of homelessness. Now this is a vast subject and so much could be said/written on the issue of homelessness and John Barber has written lots about the issue on his blog from whether the council does enough to his latest response to the Echo story where our councillors showed their ignorance of the situation by claiming London were dumping their homeless on to us. I asked at a recent SHAN meeting when was the last time someone spoke to the rough sleepers and asked them what they needed, what they wanted and the answer was a homeless health audit completed back in 2014!

One thing my friend on Saturday commented on was how much he didnt realise despite working on the SOS bus every week! One of the things i try to do is allow the rough sleeper’s voice to be heard and help that to be achieved because it is not something that happens often. We have a council who think they know what is best as seen by the rough sleepers on the cliff. Often we heard the council say `we are doing all we can` and they probably believe they were but it was very telling that thanks to the hard work of a local volunteer one of those rough sleepers who were evicted by bailiffs (i dread to think of the cost of the court case, eviction and bailiffs) was accomodated thanks to some creative thinking, £100 and 2 weeks. He is now very happy in his new settings and cost significantly less than the council spent out! The difference between the two approaches? The volunteer treated the rough sleeper as a human. She listened to his needs and wishes and worked with him rather than against him (or trying to force him to fit into the box that the council wanted ticking).

One thing i have learnt from working with rough sleepers is that they are human just like you and me! Now this seems a strange thing to say and is possibly obvious, but the amount of people who seem to forget this daily is terrifying. Often i will hear people saying `i went to buy a rough sleeper a sandwich the other day, when i returned with a chicken sandwich he said he didnt want chicken. If he was really homeless he would have been grateful` or something similiar. Now in one respect i can see where they are coming from but actually even if they are hungry, surely they are still allowed to choose what they want to eat and dont want to eat. If i was housed and didnt want to eat chicken i wouldnt, why should the fact that they are not housed be any different?

Rough sleepers have things really hard, just from what i have witnessed, i have seen rough sleepers punched, kicked, spat at, urinated on. I have heard people call them `scum` and be disparaging on a regular occurrence. I have had 4 people in the past 5 years pull me to one side when sat next to a rough sleeper and tell me `why are you helping them?? they are all scum and should be rounded up, put in a concentration camp and gassed`. I have seen the results of one man going round Southend and giving the rough sleepers poisoned bottles of water, i have hugged guys who burst in tears after i shook their hand (this has happened twice after a rough sleeper was asked to leave a well known charity shop as he `was a little bit smelly`) I have seen shopkeepers follow rough sleepers around spraying air freshener after them. It is horrible and dehumanising being a rough sleeper at times. These are just the situations i have witnessed, rough sleepers have told me about times they have been raped and one of them was kidnapped and human trafficked last year. It is awful and that is why i treat people who say that people choose to live on the street with cynicism. I have only known 4 or 5 people who have chosen to live on the street, others would like to find out a way out if possible. This isn’t an easy journey and it is made harder with bureaucracy and landlords not wanting to take DSS or making the initial cost of a deposit/guarantor too high which prices rough sleepers out.

Two statements that will always stick with me are as follows. `I remember you (street pastors), you used to bring me food, drinks and sleeping bags two years ago, but more than that you spent time with me and made me realise i was worth something. You cared for me and so i started to care for myself and now i am housed, i have a job and a relationship`. Another statement `Are you the guy who started Suspended Coffees in Southend?` I said yes. ` Thank you (kissing both my cheeks) i have a suspended coffee every day and it is the 10 or 15 minutes i most look forward to everyday as it is the 10/15 minutes that i get my dignity back`.   Both of these examples show what a low sense of self worth rough sleepers have and this is because of what i have said above. Authorities try to impose their will on them, society is horrible towards them and that is without them having to deal with their own issues around relational breakdowns, addiction, mental health etc. Time is the most precious thing we have – we spend our day rushing around from one thing to another and so to spend 5 or 10 minutes out of that taking the time to sit down next to a rough sleeper and have a conversation meaning we will be late for the next thing is such a powerful thing to do as we are showing our fellow human being that they are worth being late for, that they matter and that we understand that things are tough but that hey we are there right next to them and that we care.

We can all help, just by treating rough sleepers as humans, listening to what their needs are and trying to help them to achieve their hopes rather than imposing our own views on to them.


St Luke’s leaflets – a different approach

St Luke’s indie leaflet

Make your voice heard1 –   my first leaflet for St Lukes

Labour’s St Luke voice

Newsletter1   – Jason Pilley (Green)

So, the first 4 leaflets have gone out in the battle for St Luke’s votes.

Now is about the time when normally a politician would start to nitpick over each other’s leaflets and criticising them and believe me, i have studied both of the other leaflets hard! But I started this campaign determined to be positive (whether you like my leaflet or not, i hope you will note that i havent attacked anyone else in it) and so this should continue with my blog.

This isnt easy and i am really tempted to let fly particularly at the Independent leaflet but instead I shall simply place all 4 leaflets in the one place so that the residents (and interested political anoraks!) can look at and compare and contrast all 4 leaflets. Obviously i hope you will be persuaded to vote for me once you have read my leaflet but i shall leave it there.

Enjoy reading.

Why are you a Conservative?

I am sat here, doing an extra shift at one of the Church winter Night Shelters as one of the other managers is ill. I  usually run the Wednesday night night shelter. One of the volunteers in my team asked me tonight `why are you a Conservative?` This is a question that i get asked time and time again. It is usually prefixed with ` you do so much good for the town` or `you really care about people`.

Firstly, if this doesnt make sense then please forgive me, i am of course writing this on no hours sleep and also keeping an eye out for our guests!

This is an often asked question on the doorstep. People seem to think that being `caring` and being a Conservative is some kind of oxymoron – there are others who think all Conservatives are just morons full stop, although i did get told on the doorstep of an independent voter this week ` You are the first Tory that I have ever liked`.

I think the first issue is that this is a misconception and that you can be a `caring Conservative` and that there are many examples both nationally and locally (Sir Teddy Taylor being one) of people who would fall in this category. However below are the reasons why i am a Conservative.

The most obvious reason being because that is broadly where my opinion sits. If i look at my views as a whole then Conservatives are the closest match and this is borne out time and time again with the websites which match your views to the parties. Having said that I would describe myself as a Conservative with a small `c`. Shock horror, there are some policies that i fully agree with that Labour have proposed and i fully support the Lib Dem’s ideas around mental health and the idea of a `yellow card` when it comes to sanctions for benefits. There are also parts of Conservative policy that i disagree with although my main criticisms for my party are not to do with the ideals but with the way they have been executed.

I strongly believe in small government and not becoming a nanny state. I fully support the Conservative ideals of aspiration and believe rather than just chucking money at the issue of poverty that we should be working alongside people to train them up and give them life skills and opportunities to get out of poverty. I believe we should come out of the EU. I fully support small businesses and think that all the red tape and layers of bureaucacy that they are drowning in should be removed. I fully believe in our monarchy and also our Union. I believe in our armed forces and think that we should do all we can to support them not only when on active service but also afterwards. I believe benefits needed reforming and again i may not agree with the implementation methods I believe it was necessary.  All of these are Conservative ideals, i also believe that our economy is safer under Conservative hands too and is why i am broadly a Conservative.

This of course doesnt stop me criticising my party when i believe it is deserved and you can ask James Duddridge about the amount of times I have taken him to task about things I believe the Conservatives have got wrong. I am also happy to work with other parties and have good friends in the Labour party. I see their value and think that they have some worthwhile ideas that should be implemented.



What does the fox say?

The fox says ` I am Del Thomas`.

I have been hiding my identity as Southend Fox for a little while although certain bloggers in Southend have known who I am. I have decided that now is the time not to be hidden away but to come out into the open. I shall be blogging a lot more often which could be a good or a bad thing depending on whether you like my style or not!!

I am also a prospective candidate in this year’s elections standing in my home ward of St Lukes for the Conservative Party. I am more than happy for you to contact me if you wish at del4stlukes@gmail.com

Thank you for your time.

`What price, democracy?`

This is a quote from Cllr Martin Terry at today’s Cabinet meeting at the council. More on that and another interesting Terry quote later!

Today was the first Cabinet meeting of the year and from what I hear was a fairly quiet and slow paced affair. It apparently was interesting to see Bernard and Anne Chalk only 2 seats from her (or if rumours are to be believed his) opponent Mike Assenheim.

The meeting started off with a series of motions being passed. They removed the number of refugees Southend would help and passed the refugee motion, they passed the Sunday trading and TTIP motion rejected the Southend Borough Patrol motion. It was interesting that PCC candidate Martin Terry spoke on this issue and said the following ` i hadnt seen the exact wording of this statement even though i supported it (cllr terry was named as one of the co signatories on the motion) but i thought it would be nice to have a chance to debate the options available now that we are losing PCSOs. Lets not forget the fact that there is no difference between a PCSO and the people who formed the Southend Borough Patrol` Now i hope that if he is elected he will treat PCSOs with a lot more respect. Cllr Norman asked for further time to investigate `the local connection` issue and whether that should be extended to 7 years rather than 3.

One further motion that was put forward was for the council to be reduced by one councillor per ward down from 51 – 34 and to hold elections once every 4 years. Now this motion was changed as a lot of the cabinet (Cllrs Terry, Betson and Gilbert) couldn`t support the motion as it stood although they all felt it should be discussed at full council. This change couldn`t occur without a public consultation and permission from the Local Government Agency and what I hadnt realised was that it was not possible to move from an election every 3 years to an election every 2 years except in exceptional circumstances and so if they were to change the electoral cycle then it would have to be every 4 years and have all up elections.

There were some interesting responses from Cllrs Terry and Woodley and i will come to those at the end.  I want to address the general principles at play first.

I think the above proposal has 2 different facets 1)reducing the number of councillors and 2) reducing the number of elections.

Focussing on the first issue, i have some sympathy for the view expressed that ward councillors should be reduced from 3 down to 2. In most wards I could name you one councillor who is working very hard, 1 councillor who is working slightly less hard and one councillor who is having a free ride. I wont do so on this blog but it is fairly easy to do (oh go on! – ed). I think therefore in theory reducing the number of councillors will save money and overall be a good idea although i am concerned that there may be a situation where 1 ward has a member of cabinet or chair of a scrutiny group (which takes up a lot of time) and if the other councillor of that group then is mayor that ward will then have a situation where they are not being adequately represented. Given 10 councillors would either be chairs or part of the cabinet then this could very easily happen and so some consideration would need to be given to this possibility but it could work.

The issue of all up elections every 4 years is one where i strongly disagree. Cllr Moyies apparently argued today that it would reduce time wastage in Council. He complained that for 3 months of the year nothing can happen because of purdah and that if you had all up elections this would speed processes up and give administrations a mandate to carry out a 4 year plan. My opposition to all up elections is based on many views. Firstly it would reduce the need for individuals to campaign as many people would vote along party lines and not for individuals eg a Labour voter would vote for both the Labour candidates regardless of skill. This would mean that the national mood at the time would hugely affect the outcomes eg an anti Labour feeling nationally will wipe out most Labour councillors. I am not sure this will benefit the council as national mood swings annually and it will depend where that shift is nationally at that particular moment. I also dont think all up elections are democratic as you then have to wait 4 years before you can have your voice on how a party is doing (i include the independent party in that statement). They say a week is a long time in politics, well 4 years is certainly a long time to have your say.  Having an election every 3 years means the parties and candidates have to keep going to the electorate and asking what they think about matters which can only be a good thing. Having elections every 4 years means the electorate can be ignored for 3 years and spoken to for 1.

Cllr Woodley made an interesting statement as he tried to get this pushed through and he said ` never let it be forgotten that we can follow Leigh Town’s example and have a town/parish council for every ward in order to keep it democratic`.  Surely this would rather negate any savings made by not holding a local election as the elections for these would be yearly?

Cllr Terry said `What price democracy?, i am not sure i agree with the motion but think that it would be good to debate this in full council (so far, fair enough and indeed the final proposal was changed so that it would go to Full Council to be debated) however this would not be looked at unless we werent experiencing huge budget cuts from Central Government`.

This surely is a damning statement and underlines why it is a bad idea. IF something would not have been changed unless it was to save money then surely it is not a good idea in the first place because otherwise the issue around money would not be important.

The virgin Mary and Christmas Turkeys

I have a confession to write dear reader, (you know who you are!). As a political geek I was very excited today.  Why? Because tonight was my favourite full council out of the whole council cycle as it is so twee and has it’s own eccentricities and I love it. Tonight did not disappoint at all!  I have called this blog piece `The Virgin Mary and Christmas Turkeys` in honour of Mary Betson and some of the side shows that happened tonight!

It all kicked off with CAST, Cross Simon and some of the churches forming a guard of honour round the entrance of the council chambers so that the councillors had to notice them and i assume they wanted to put pressure on councillors (i was surprised at Cross Simon’s political naivety). It was disappointing that no one had advised them to ask a question and that all that would happen tonight is the motion to host 100 refugees would be referred to Cabinet.

It was also interesting to see some of the public gallery. The Conservative candidates were there in force with Messers Gittus, Thomas and Garne all present. Anne Chalk, who confirmed her intention to stand in Shoebury was also there.

I referred to the Virgin Mary as it was Mary’s first full council as a cabinet member and I personally thought she did a good job, her responses were detailed and answered the question unlike some of the other responses and so if she carries on like this bodes well for the rest of her short political career (she is up for election in Prittlewell and unlikely to retain her seat)

Unfortunately she was one of the few people who performed well tonight and didnt end up looking a bit silly – some intentionally and some just made some silly mistakes.  Now far be it from me to suggest they actually were turkeys but they certainly had a bad night tonight (mainly the independent party – sorry they are not a party, Mike Assenheim even made clear tonight he no longer gets a allowance as party leader.) I have listed them below;

One of the reasons I like tonight is Cllr Aylen presents the council with a Christmas log which is great fun! I also likes the way Rob Tinlin pays £40 if they finish by half 9 and feel he should do this for all full councils!!!

You may remember that last time Cllr Aylen pulled out Sooty and then forgot what question he wanted to ask!! He is fast becoming a caricature of himself and tonight he started off by putting lights around himself and turning them on when presenting the log so he was all lit up in blue. He also had a light up snowman in front of him all of the meeting! Most bizarre. He also mentioned on no less than 4 times his membership of the Working Bus Party which of course he was thrown off by Dictator (sorry) Leader Woodley at the end of the evening.

Cllr Woodley had an unusually poor time, he snapped at me who asked for a meeting to discuss homelessness saying that he left a meeting Ron attended after 10 minutes. It was 10 minutes to Ron as he turned up half hour late and I left as I had to go and work with the homeless rather than just talk about it. Incidentally watch this blog tomorrow for something that Cllr Woodley said at that meeting.  Cllr Woodley always says his door is always open to anyone but tonight the door was firmly and rudely shut in my face. His evening then got worse when he had to make a public apology because he didnt declare an interest as a beach hut owner and so apologised for this oversight. He also announced how he was a strong Conservative supporter and always supports them.

Cllr Terry looked lost all night and Cllr Woodley must be wishing he could have got rid of him. Cllr Courtenay commented how he was lucky to be in post and the look on Woodley’s face when he said this was a classic. The moment of the night for him was when the Mayor announced that the Council had jointly won the Landlord of the Year and asked Cllr Terry to present who, with a red face, had to stand up and admit he had forgotten to bring the award! There was also a lengthy debate on HIV which was fairly non partisan apart from Cllr Terry who then complained that it was being made political!!!

Cllr Courtenay tonight came across as a sulking teenager. On the whole i like him but Cllr Jones firmly put him in place and all night he kept interrupting cabinet members with muttering and it was not a great performance which is a shame as he often makes good points.

Cllr Mcmahon made an interesting interjection in which she claimed that HIV education should be kept far away from the press but wanted creative ideas as to how to spread the message without cost – surely the media is a good way of doing this?

Cllr Davies (sporting an obvious wig which was two different colours) also interjected on the HIV debate talking about how HIV was important but that housing was a bigger problem and so we should be discussing that and not HIV – he does realise that there are two seperate budgets for the two issues doesnt he?

The night might have started badly for me but Ian Gilbert gave me some good news. As you know I am actively campaigning for a dual diagnosis worker and in the HIV debate he said `Sexual health is important but the major issue we have in health and the area where we need to be concentrating budget on addiction as Southend has a massive issue with addiction.` This is exactly what I am asking for.

An interesting night as i say  overall but a lot of people will be looking to improve as their New Year’s Resolution.