On Sunday hundreds were set to descend on Truro Cathedral for an anti-cuts protest about the 40% cuts to the Supporting People funding in Cornwall, which provides funding to vulnerable care services. Most of the funding goes towards homelessness support. The demonstration was far different to what many imagined it would be.
You can blame it on the weather, the loss of momentum or the date (it being a bank holiday), but whichever way you spin it the demonstration was a failure. For a start the protest in February saw over 100 sleep outside County Hall for the same reason, despite temperatures dropping to -1. Despite the scale of opposition, councillors just a couple of days later voted through millions of pounds of cuts to these essential services.
This demonstration however, entailed just twenty or less camp outside the Cathedral. Several homeless people were among the protesters. Of course, the demonstration was billed as a show of charitable care towards homeless people, but the behavior of the organisers was inexcusable.
At around midnight the organisers drew people camping in the car park at the back to the front of the cathedral to witness two clearly distressed people, both homeless, apparently ‘lash out’ at the organisers. I had been talking with one of them earlier and she was far from violent, singing protest songs with everyone. But the apparently drunk homeless people had been drawn to attention by the organisers (from the Cathedral) and were being told to leave the shelter of the front of the building and go out into the street. Not your average show of human compassion.
The police were called, despite the protestations of some of the others camping out, and the homeless couple were then told they were ‘spoiling our demonstration’ and ‘being unnecessarily disruptive’. What they were actually doing was demanding the organisers explain why so few were here, why they were being treated like outsiders, why they were being patronised by people who showed only token solidarity with them, before returning to the warmth of their homes.
Eventually the gates of the Cathedral front were closed. The facade was apparently in danger of being scratched by these rowdy two who challenged the middle-class guilt appeasing nature of the demo. Forced into the rain, they left peacefully. As did the organisers, who were reported to have gone home – yes, gone home – instead of sleeping out.
The Cathedral probably has enough space inside to accommodate all the homeless people in Cornwall. But on Sunday, we saw the very people the protest was meant to be in support of snubbed and ejected.
The campaign against such disgusting cuts shouldn’t stop here because of what happened. What it has to learn however is that homeless people do indeed suffer high levels of alcoholism, and understandably so – it’s freezing out there on the streets. It’s the causes of this that we have to tackle as the numbers of homeless increases in Cornwall as a result of these cuts. Otherwise, we are guilty of turning away those we’re supposed to be defending – undermining ourselves and the anti-cuts movement as a whole.