To Do List

Reported by Paul

Published on Thursday, March 10th, 2022

Accommodation Bureaucracy Healthcare Access Physical Health Welfare Benefits

To Do List

Written by Paul

Published on Thursday, March 10th, 2022



Healthcare Access

Physical Health

Welfare Benefits

I thought in this week’s contribution, I would talk about my weekly to-do list, the to-do list that I have compiled this morning and that kind of reflects the legitimate problems of homelessness and health and living and trying to be creative and trying to be a human being. When you don’t look at these things holistically, and you just come away, organisations will just focus on this, and we’ll just focus on that. And you’re like, “yeah, you see, the problem is they are interconnected. So, if you separate them, you cannot actually solve the problem”.

Now, the important and pressing things for me this week are the things that are least important to me in terms of having to do them, but the most important in terms of having an ability to survive. So, I have a long list of legal to this week.

One is having to deal with the DWP. So, they stop my employment support allowance in October 2020. We’re now obviously in January 2022. Now when they stopped it, I wrote to them and said, “look, give me an explanation why you’ve done this”, and they didn’t. And I chased them for weeks and weeks and weeks and they said, “we’ve said, you want us to know what you said is that you’re not going to change your mind about something”.

But what I actually asked you is how you concluded your decision in the first place. And they refused to do that. So, then I got in touch with my MP, and said, “oi, this is a problem. I can’t get these people to comply with the law, which don’t forget as you’ve listened to previous contributions of mine”. I took two years to get the DWP just to agree that they were going to comply with the law and email me to accommodate both my homelessness circumstances and my disability.

So, as the judge mentioned in that judgement, that was 10 years of breaching my human rights and my disability rights. So, when they refused to respond, I’m thinking, I just have to write to my MP. My MP will give them a clip on the wrist and sort it out. That didn’t happen. So, months and months of to-ing and fro-ing in that regards. And eventually the DWP just responded with the same response. They responded to me and to [my MP], then [my MP] kind of just gave up the ghost.

Which now means I have to draft tons and tons and tons of court papers, assimilate in tons and tons and tons of email evidence to ask a judge to allow me to appeal a decision that I don’t actually have. So, I don’t know why they made the decision. So, I’m in an impossible position to be able to ask for an appeal, really. But I have to do something with the legal system in order to trigger something for someone to think about, something to solve the problem.

The same is true of my PIP, which was reduced in February of last year, if I recall correctly in 2021 and again, same position. A decision was made, they said “we’ve made this decision”. I then said, “well, on both grounds, on what basis? How have you concluded this?”. And again, they’ve not responded. So, I’m in this odd place where the local authority needs various information from the DWP said they were going to get involved in the system, that they could do their job and failed to do that. So now I’m having to spend weeks. This is going to take, this isn’t just a couple of days’ worth of work. This is weeks and weeks’ worth of work that fundamentally a lawyer should be doing.

Which then moves us into Westminster Council. Now, Westminster Council of obviously have my case for 13 years. I’m going to say that again, thirteen years now, almost two years ago, I was brought in, in the Everyone In scheme into temporary accommodation. And as you know, for the last 15, 16 months, I’ve been threatened with eviction from this temporary accommodation every four weeks.

This is now definitely ending at the end of February. Not that Westminster Council have told me. In fact, it’s the property owner that had a conversation with me and alerted me to this fact. I have now been pursuing daily for months with the council to find out what on earth is going on. They will then go, “well, we can’t help you because the DWP isn’t sorted that we said we would help to assist sort, but we didn’t so tough and that’s the end of that”.

So now I’ve got to start drafting legal documentation against them. And again, this is not a 10 minute email. This is going back over something in the region of a thousand emails over the last two years and compiling and drafting and creating a legal document that I can take to court and say, “look, they failed”. And the biggest irony is, having done all of that, all I’m going to achieve is getting them to do whatever they should have done in the first place. I’m not going to get compensation; they’re not going to apologise. They’ll just do what they should have done two years ago. So, they’ve had my case under everyone in now for two years and basically have done nothing.

OK, so I lost my teeth four years ago and have never been able to get the sort of appropriate dental care, so that remains ongoing. And again, it’s one of those things that people just don’t correlate – so when you just go see a dentist, well, it’s never that simple, especially when you’re talking about dental work where my brother has been my dentist all my life. And he retired, and that meant I have to build a new relationship with someone because, you know, it’s tough with chronic fatigue that has implications.

I have panic attacks; I have a whole variety of things. It means that actually the relationship between someone who’s going to be doing work on my teeth has to be very important, and it’s very easy for a dentist to make you very, very ill. And so, you know, you have to trust them in this place, and they have to be very, very good at what they do. And that isn’t something you can just go, I’ll go to my local dentist. This takes a lot of time searching and sourcing.

I’ve got Beau’s lines on my thumbs. Now, for those who don’t know, that’s an indentation of the fingernail. It can, and more often does, represent a very, very, very serious illness. And I have reached out to my doctor via email because that is the only way to do things in the 21st century and unfortunately have not had a response. I only noticed them about three or four weeks ago. But I need some underlying tests to make sure what’s caused them.

Chances are it’s just poor diet and it can be a symptom of a lack of zinc, which would not surprise me at all. Also it could be many cancers and many, many serious underlying illnesses. So, they need to get checked out. But again, I now have to chase that. Obviously, that comes back to my ME/CFS, which is now 32 years in the making.

My ophthalmic needs have never been met. I think the last time I went to an optician was about eight years ago and I got some reading glasses, but they don’t last 30 seconds. When you’re experiencing homelessness or in a bag, they break. You lose them. You forget them. You can’t keep replacing those. And it’s been interesting because my eyes seem to have readjusted since I’ve been back indoors. And I think a big chunk of that is because I’m sort of resting more. So, you don’t get quite as much eyestrain and I’ve been able to read again, which is phenomenal so I’m into my second book this year and for many years I’ve been experiencing homelessness I’ve not been able to read a book. I can read things on a on a backlit screen, but it was just, it was just blurred. It was it was impossible to read. So, my eyes seem to have improved. But again, you need to get that checked out. Which all comes back to things like sleep and yoga and exercise and diet. So so far, my to-do list is gone with legal and health.

And then of course, there’s the creativity. So, like I was saying about Arts Council England there is a project that’s been five years in the making. There’s another one called Paul Atherton’s Greatest Londoners, which my friend Chris Harvey, who’s a paparazzi photographer, and I staged in the Oxo gallery two years ago and it has taken 10 people of influence that I know in central London to say, “look, I have all these friends. I have all these influential people like Matthew Taylor, the former chief executive of the RSA. And none of these people can assist with my homelessness so if I’ve got this kind of influence and I can’t solve the problem, what chance for people who don’t?”.

We’ve now evolved this into a second one called Black Female Talent, and these sort of ten of the female friends that I met and counted or worked with. And it’s about a celebration of diversity in Britain. And again, it’s one of those things that you do to make yourself feel like you’re human. You know, you kind of you want to produce, you want to make, you want to create, you know, this is what humanity is about is about (a) leaving a mark of some kind after you’ve gone and (b) feeling productive, feeling that you can change people’s opinions on things you know and engage people. And those things are important to me.

I’ve just finished doing three weeks helping workshop – a play for Groundswell and Cardboard Citizens, and again, that sort of input to those things is really important. And the diverse voices that you find in the room are really important.

We use terms like lived experience, which I’m actually getting less to like as the last couple of years goes by because I think it’s more of a label for a group of people rather than the only group of people anybody should be listening to. So, you know, when you talk about the lived experience or expertise by experience, basically what you’re saying is, “oh yes, we’re going to bring them in for a little chat, and we’ll have a listen to them, but actually all we’re going to really do is talk to government advisers and big, large charities and all this kind of thing who know nothing about the problem. And we’re not actually going to talk to the very individuals that need the problem sorting out”.

So, I really started to dislike the term. But again, it is all part of the creative. It is all part of my weekly and I can’t. I’m going to make this point, really, but this is a weekly to-do list. This is the stuff I have to do this week. And people say to me, it’s like, “oh, you know, you’ve got benefits, you’ve got housing, you’ve got..” and you’re like, “yeah, but none of this stuff works, so you have to become a lawyer, a personal assistant, a public relations adviser, a journalist to get all this stuff to work together”.

So obviously, I’m writing my memoir at the London Library, which I’m there as an emerging writer, but that programme ends in June. So suddenly I’ve got a ticking clock on that. But I need to get that sorted, so I know I’ve talked about it before, but it is this dilemma of where you go, how you do things.

But I thought it was really important this week just to get a taste of the level of stress, the immense amount of work that’s required to just survive. You know, this isn’t me growing in any way. You know, this situation has been constant for 13 years. Nothing has moved. Nothing has changed for me in 13 years. I’m still battling with the DWP. I’m still battling with the local authorities. I’m still battling with, you know, getting something sustainable for the rest of my life.

But at the same time, I’m not letting that crush me, which I guarantee you can really easily do. And it’s why most people kind of go, “oh, I just won’t bother with benefits, and I’ll beg” and things like this because it is soul destroying. It just crushes you. See, you go, “I’m going to be creative. I’m going to go do things. I’m going to engage with the world and I’m going to build friendships and relationships”. And as this started, I wanted to say, “this is a to-do list. This is this week’s to-do list”.

And I’m telling you this really just to give you a taste, really of everyday life for every single one of us experiencing homelessness. Having the homelessness is just one small bit of a tirade of problems. Yet we still want to be part of society. In fact, we’ve never left society, but we want to engage in ways that are creative and that are joyous. And that makes life worth living.

Join us: We see the the hub as the start of a movement of people, all united in the belief that elevating our voices will challenge stereotypes and help decision makers end homeless health inequalities. Join us by signing up to our mailing list – the Listen Up! mail out.

Written by Paul

Paul Atherton FRSA is a social campaigning film-maker, playwrightauthor & artist. His work has been screened on the Coca-Cola Billboard on Piccadilly Circus, premiered at the Leicester Square Odeon Cinema, his video-diary has been collected into the permanent collection of the Museum of London, he is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and was selected as one of the London Library's 2021/22 emerging writers during covid lockdown, where he is currently writing his memoir.

He achieved most of this whilst homeless, an ongoing experience that has been his life for over a decade in London. In the last two years he’s made Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 his bedroom and became part of what he coined the #HeathrowHomeless before being moved into emergency hotel accommodation for the duration of Covid-Lockdown in Marylebone on 3rd April 2020.

In the past ten years he’s experienced every homeless initiative that Charities, Local Authorities and the City has had to offer. All of which clearly failed.

With the end of “Everyone In”, Paul has no idea where his next move is going to be, but he expects he’ll be returning to Heathrow.

Read all of Paul's articles


Accommodation Bureaucracy Healthcare Access Physical Health Welfare Benefits

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