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A voice for Bradford's homeless
Homeless people in Bradford. Photo: Tim Rickaby
The contributors behind 'Forgotten', a collection of poems and photographs about the hidden homeless in Bradford

A book of poetry written by people who have slept rough in Bradford has been launched in an effort to highlight their plight.

One man who has experienced this at first-hand is Gary Staniforth, from Bradford.

Not only has he been through it himself, he's now become a pioneer of making changes in the way homeless people are treated by Bradford council.

He says: "When you're homeless, you're desperate and isolated. You've lost everything. It's a bad place to be."

Gary began his campaign in 2009 to tackle the problem. He started a ground-breaking project to help homeless people in West Yorkshire to speak out through creative writing.

A one-man campaign

He worked in conjunction with Bradford Alliance on Community Care (BACC) and Artworks Creative Communities, a Bradford based charity.

The result is 'Forgotten', a book of poetry written by a group of people who've experienced sleeping rough on the streets.

Gary wrote in the introduction: "I remember wandering round the town centre on New Year's Eve feeling isolated, alone, desperate and like life was over for me. The pain of being separated from my kids was unbearable at times. I was angry and frustrated but tired and weak with it all, ready to just give up with nowhere and nobody to turn to."

Gary Staniforth.  Photo: Tim Rickaby
Gary Staniforth is providing a voice for the homeless

It was this harrowing experience that gave Gary a new sense of direction, to help those who have no one to turn to.

Gary says: "Five years ago I was severely addicted to cocaine, dealing drugs and making mistakes all over. It all led to the loss of a job and needing money to support three kids and a family.

"Everything spiralled out of control from there. I lost my family to my addiction and ended up with nowhere to go. I began couch-surfing and ended up on a three-year drinking binge.

"I ran out of places to go and surrendered myself to that life.

"When I finally landed on the streets, I was clean and the support that I required just wasn't available. By then I didn't have a drug or drink issue so there was no support for me. I was a 40-year-old fellow who should be able to look after himself."

It was then Gary began his protest outside City Hall and was invited to give a speech in the council chamber.

He says he was frustrated by the lack of help out there for the needy, despite several services and provisions.

He explains: "The lack of it was due to certain parts of government legislation. There were lots of catch 22's in there. I approached Bradford Council to ask them to change it.

When you're homeless and pretty desperate, it's enough to turn you to drugs, drink and crimes.
Gary Staniforth, an advocate for the homeless

"Everything that I had to say that was wrong with the services that I couldn't get have been looked at and were reviewed.

"I came up with the poetry idea and it helped develop my writing skills. I thought if I am thinking this, then so might others.

"It all started 12 months ago and I am really proud of what it's doing but my main aim is to change the 30-year-old legislation that needs revamping."

Creative changes

Gary says he is very aware that changes won't happen overnight, but is hopeful.

He says: "I'd like to see priority status disappear altogether. When you're homeless and pretty desperate, it's enough to turn you to drugs, drink and crimes and I think there should be equal rights for everyone. You should get help straight away and not get stuck in a queue, because prisoners coming out of prison need help, or an alcoholic needs help.

Gary says homeless people are in dire need of help and are often the most vulnerable

Councillor Adrian Naylor, Executive Member for Regeneration and Economy, says: "Gary has raised some very valid issues in his petition which highlight gaps in support for homeless people.

"A number of changes to housing and homelessness including Open Moves have been contracted to run for the Council.

"This will take a holistic approach to homelessness - tackling employment and training as well as finding people somewhere to live. It is hoped this will both prevent homelessness in some cases and break the cycle of homelessness faced by many people."

Gary is now living in a flat in Bradford, but is continuing to campaign for the hidden homeless.



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