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Cathy's Not Come Home

I have been researching a major newspaper series or special report to mark the 25th anniversary of my film Cathy Come Home this November.

The vast extent of our housing famine and the shame of hundreds of thousands of tragic homeless families in our midst have again sunk low on the political agenda. I would like, once again, to try, in however small a way, to change that.

I have in the past published a number of series and one-shots in the Guardian, Observer, Sunday Times, Statesman, Standard, and also in the Sun, Sunday People, and Sunday Mirror.

Your paper would lend authority to what I'd like to say.

Areas I am particularly interested in:

(1)How the homeless scene has changed over the past 25 years. Numbers and nature of homelessness now as regards families and single people.

(2)The official response. Emergency accommodation in council reception centres, hostels, hotels, bed and breakfast, and other delights such as exarmy camps and sub-standard caravan sites in which officialdom places homeless families.

(3)The 'hidden homeless'. Those who apply but are 'not homeless enough' to qualify for official help.

(4)How government policies have created the housing famine.

(5)Self-help solutions, some of them adequate, some of them desperate, and a plea that things be made easier for these hundreds of thousands who seek to solve their own homelessness problem.

(6)What is a home? Is it because we consistently ask the wrong questions that we also so consistently come up with the wrong answers?

These last two could be the primary one to go for if you feel the others have been overexposed - though I would like to touch on them all.

Would you be interested?

Some notes follow.

Cathy's Not Come Home

Twenty five years ago the film of Jeremy Sandford's screenplay 'Cathy Come Home' pricked the conscience of this Nation. Over 22 million viewers saw the first two showings, three months apart. The film won many awards. There followed dramatic changes in official policy towards housing and homelessness, and the setting up of Shelter.

Now, a quarter century later, Sandford has returned to those themes that originally inspired his anger and concern. Once again he has built up a seering dossier on how homeless people and especially homeless families are being treated in Britain - in ways very different though often equally as tragic as in those far off days. And on the true extent of Britain's housing crisis, perhaps the worst in Europe.

Now in a hardhitting newspaper series (or depth enquiry) that is an inditement of Government housing policies, he talks to some of the mothers, fathers, and children who find themselves among the hundreds of thousands for whom contemporary Britain can find no home.

A government that can not provide homes for its ordinary citizens is not fit to govern, he argues. Yet that has been the case for almost as long as most of us can remember.

So great is the housing famine that in Britain today there are hundreds, probably thousands, of pathetic families living in obsolete buses, lorries, even tents and boats. There are hundreds of thousands who live in caravans. Shelter reckons the shortfall in proper homes as just about a million.

Yet, almost incredibly, there are over a million homes empty in Britain at this very moment - enough to provide a home for every homeless and every inadequately housed family in the land.

Through greed or through incompetence, they are left empty by individuals, by local authorities, and most disturbing of all by our own government departments. Some have been empty for more than a decade.

I am put in mind of those Third World govrnments which stockpile food while their citizens experience famine.

Yet, far from devising ways of bringing just a few thousand of these empty homes back into use, our government is actually itself contributing to the famine.

Not only in sitting on empty property. Far worse. As a direct result of government directives to local authorities, the number of new homes started last year was the lowest for any year since the war.

The housing famine is man-made, by our government.

Style of the Series

I shall:

Talk to, and tell the stories of, some of the thousands of mothers, fathers, and children who have been officially declared to be homeless at this moment in time.

Visit sub standard caravan sites, army huts, hostels, and heartbreak bed and breakfast hotels in which local authorities provide pathetic shelter for their homeless families.

Talk to some of these hundreds of thousands who are inadequately housed. Beyond the hundreds of thousands who are 'officially' homeless, are these other hundreds of thousands who are 'not homeless enough' to count as 'officially homeless'; the tragic families sleeping on the floors or sofas of in-laws or friends. Those in squats. Those who have found shelter in caravans and those who, in the whole of this country, can find nowhere legal to put their caravan homes.

I shall talk to those thousands of families whose children have been taken into care for reasons of homelessness.

I shall talk of the allegations of malnutrition and near starvation that occur for children in the heartbreak hotels.

I shall spotlight just a few of Britain's homes currently left empty.

The Solution

I will be talking of positive solutions to the housing famine, not merely dwelling on how desperate it is. I will be talking to experts about things which we could do now, even in these bleak times, to provide homes for these homeless men, women, and children.

I shall be talking to homeless people themselves about what they think about it all and what solutions they come up with.

In a final article I may, or may not, talk to single homeless people, people sleeping out in the open and in vast hostels like the Salvation Army hostels. Their plight is also desperate, though entirely different factors are involved to those involving homeless families.

Again, if I cover this aspect, I will talk about solutions as well as outlining the huge problem.

Throughout, it will be a very human series. I will be talking to the actual people involved in the tragic farce of homelessness.

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