Tuesday, 18 October 2011

First Hand is the Best Hand

I thought, "Here we go again". I'd bought a roll and a coffee from Greggs, and was sitting on a familiar seat in the city centre out of the wind. A man and a can with his girlfriend sat down beside me. Was this to be more aggression? Would I be tapped up for money? Would I have to listen to them arguing?

I couldn't have been more wrong, and I couldn't have been happier to be more wrong. He introduced himself as Steve (name changed), and was very friendly and talkative. They were going to be married next August, and had a flat in Nottingham. He reminded me so much of clients in the past who hid nothing from you. He was open and honest, with a refreshing assessment of Nottingham. Steve was originally from Derbyshire, but had been in Nottingham for many years. It was difficult for his girlfriend to get a word in. He seemed genuinely interested in me, and what I thought. When he heard about my line of work before retirement, the conversation changed; he opened up about his own life, and his experiences in Nottingham.

He was probably in his early thirties, and said that he'd spent a number of years in prison in his youth, as a result of thieving. He'd been a heroin addict for about ten years, but had been clean for a good few years now. I believed him, as he showed none of the tell-tale signs of a current user. He'd slept rough on the streets of Nottingham, and had also been an alcohol abuser. Though he still drank, it was minimal compared to the past. His skin, eyes and demeanor showed to me that his previous abuse was a thing of the past. He attributed much of the change in his life to his girlfriend. (I never did catch her name). A young fellow rode past on his bike and waved. "That's Billy" (name changed), said Steve, "He lives on the streets, and spends all his day riding up and down town shop-lifting". It was just a matter of fact.

I asked him about homelessness and street drinking. He said that ten years ago you could have 100 people living rough on the streets, and sleeping in doorways, now there are a handful, and most of those "are Polish". The problem is more of "sofa-surfing", where people rely on others to let them sleep on their floors or sofas. This is often called the hidden homeless, because there's no way to quantify the problem. Steve let's some of his former friends use the shower in his flat, but not to stay overnight, as he doesn't trust them. He could wake up in the morning and find his goods stolen. In my previous work I'd heard of this happening time and time again. Many in the homelessness community would look after others, but end up being ripped off for their kindness. He had a good knowledge of organisations that were there to help people, and of the reduction in funding. This now limited the amount of help that could be given, and people were suffering as a result of it.

He understood the needs of those who were alcohol dependent, as he'd been that way himself. It was tragic that the Handel Street centre had to close because of the withdrawal of funding, as it was the only "wet centre" in town. This was a centre where people could go for help, and were allowed to drink there. In his view, this was the best place to go if you had an alcohol problem, to get help. I was hearing nothing that I hadn't heard a thousand times before, but I was listening to someone with no agenda, no axe to grind, just first hand knowledge and experience, and first hand is always the best hand. If only the power brokers and the decision makers would spend more time with people like Steve before they produced their Strategies and Action Plans.

Before he left me, he said, "Do you know what the biggest problem in Nottingham is?" My look asked him to tell me. "It's Domestic Violence". There was no time to explore this further with him, and with a hand shake, they both left.

Now I'm not new to the issues of Domestic Violence (DV), as I've seen too many people who have suffered under it, as well as worked with organisations who have specialised in addressing it. However, I felt out of touch, and needed to refresh myself, as well as get acquainted with the position in Nottingham. I warn you, it does not make for pretty reading, but it needs to be highlighted.

The following information has been gained from reading material provided by Nottinghamshire Police; Nottinghamshire Domestic Violence Forum; Nottinghamshire County Council; Nottingham City Council; Women's Aid, and Relate. It should be noted at the outset, that Domestic Violence, while primarily is men abusing women, there is the lesser known, but none the less significant problem of women abusing men. Some of the facts are best, I think, presented in the form of bullet points, as they stand out more, and are better digested.
  • Every week in England and Wales, two women are killed through Domestic Violence, and about 30 men a year
  • Research estimates that Domestic Violence accounts for 16% of all violent crime in England and Wales
  • Police receive one report of Domestic Violence every minute of every day
  • One in four women, and one in six men will experience Domestic Violence in their lifetime
  • It is projected that every year at least 31,000 women living in Nottinghamshire will experience Domestic Violence
  • At least 10% of women over the age of 16 in Nottingham will be at risk of Domestic Violence
  • Research suggests 250 men in Nottingham will experience four or more incidents of Domestic Violence from a partner in a year
  • A victim of Domestic Violence suffers an average of 35 assaults before they report it to the Police
  • An estimated three children in every class of 30 in Nottingham will be living with Domestic Violence
  • 75% of abused mothers said that their children had witnessed Domestic Violence
  • 33% had seen their mothers beaten up
  • 10% had witnessed sexual violence
  • In 90% of Domestic Violence incidents, children are in the same or the next room when the violence occurs
  • Research is also showing a strong correlation between domestic violence and child abuse. Studies have found these types of abuse occurring together in between 40 - 70% of cases
  • People who experience Domestic Violence are 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol
  • Domestic Violence is the single largest cause of homelessness
  • Domestic Violence is widespread, and persists within all groups in society; it is not just the poor and under-privileged
  • As horrific as these figures are, Domestic Violence is the highest-volume single category of violent crime, and yet one of the most under reported by survivors, and under recorded by agencies
  • The reality is worse than what we even know
Robert Burns
I've been quoting similar figures to these for years, but I've never got used to them. And the words, "man's inhumanity to man" keep coming back to me. My reader will no doubt know that the phrase was coined by Robert Burns and used in his poem, "From Man was made to Mourn: A Dirge, 1785".

"Many and sharp the num'rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And Man, whose heav'n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, -
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!"

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