Last night I finally got to see I, Daniel Blake in my local cinema. It was only showing for one night and it was full, with people waiting hopefully for returned tickets. Having always worked in housing, so many of those film characters were familiar, both those administering processes and decisions, and those receiving them. For those delivering policies, it can be hard not to become a faceless bureaucrat, reduced to such a coping strategy after months and years of being powerless to offer some hope, let alone housing. For those reduced to such a state of helplessness, even humiliation, by a series of complex events, Ken Loach as ever captures this to sensitive perfection as he has since Cathy Come Home 50 years ago.
Cathy Come Home continues to provide enormous impetus to how we understand and tackle homelessness. I have seen it numerous times and each time feel compelled to try to do more. I watched a recent live screening of Cardboard Citizens’ Cathy which is currently still touring and brings Cathy into the contemporary world of homelessness – with added gentrification, (un)affordability and enforced relocation and isolation to the toxic mix. Inside Housing has its own Cathy at 50 campaign exploring homelessness and crucially, best practice to tackle it. Inside Housing’s article on homeless and its depiction in film can help raise awareness and interest amongst a wider audience.
The thing is though that awareness alone is not enough. Poor housing and poverty is no good for anyone, but more than that, it is unacceptable. As last night’s film finished, I watched some in the audience wiping away tears; the film had influenced many who had perhaps not experienced the very real effects of what being homeless and poor means, how it feels and what it does to you and your children. For others of us who work in housing, the feeling is perhaps different, with an underlying anger that it just goes on and on and on. Trying to end on a positive note though, film directors like Ken Loach get inside our heads and make us want to do more. There seems a new momentum for housing policy to be kinder and to add to our quality of life, not to reduce it. It is surely not too much to ask. There are plenty of us who think so.