Welcome to Tent City: Leeds shows poverty is ‘not just a third-world problem’
Between the businessman enjoying his pasty on a park bench and a jogger training for her next marathon, there stands a city within a city.
A protest against homelessness and a sign of unity amongst the most vulnerable in society, Leeds’ ‘Tent City’ has quickly garnered the public’s attention as awareness is raised around one of the 21st century’s biggest problems – poverty.
Initially set up outside the city’s Art Gallery on The Headrow, the colony of campers now take centre stage, just a stone’s throw away from the Henry Moore statue, in Park Square.
Up to 60 homeless and vulnerable people have been camping out in the ‘safe and patrolled’ area every night in recent times, where food, water and most recently portaloos have been made available.
Leeds Homeless Partnership member, Haydn Jessop, is spearheading the project, appealing to the local government for more help to be made available for Tent City’s residents.
Having sofa surfed for several months in his younger years, he says he understands how hard it can be for people to ‘get back on their feet’ and hopes to support the rising number of homeless people in Leeds.
“I was lucky, in the fact that I moved away from Leeds and was able to sort myself out,” he said. “Now that I’m in this position, I have to give something back to a cause that has touched my heart.
“There’s not enough going on for the homeless community and the big charities are just profiting off the homeless.
“They’re taking wages before they are even helping anyone in destitution. That’s what we’re trying to stop.”
Haydn also had strong words for the current ‘yellow and red card’ scheme, which runs throughout Leeds.
Currently, if someone is caught begging the public for cash, they are issued with an amber coloured paper, warning them not to repeat their actions.
However, if they are then caught again, a red warning is given which bans them from the city centre for 48 hours.
If they still continue to beg, the individual may then be arrested.
“When you get off the bus on a morning on your way to work, you only see one or two homeless people,” he said. “We’re trying to show people the true numbers affected and the real statistics.
“The council are saying that there are only 13 to 15 homeless people within Leeds City Centre. That number may only be true because they continue to push people out of the city centre with the yellow and red card system.
“This camp is helping to bring people back in to a safe place at a time when more and more have had to go to areas which pose a danger to their safety.”
Since setting up Tent City, organisers say the crime rate has been reduced, whilst similar initiatives have been set-up across the UK.
Debra Coupar, Leeds council member for communities, said the council remained ‘open to sensible discussions’ yet protestors have ‘chosen not to engage with the council or charities who work on this issue’.
Defending the local authority’s current work with the homeless, she added: “We continue to work with a range of partners, including the police and charities to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in Leeds.
“We also work with partners to try and ensure that the health and well-being of anyone in housing need is addressed.”