This article was originally written on Lefton Writes by 2013 Fellow Vanessa Lefton.
In my first week at Centrepoint’s youth hostel in North London, I find myself rigorously testing our emergency services – bar the fire brigade – from police to ambulance to refugee council to helpline to hotline. I am swiftly inducted to a shambles.
The age of a young asylum seeker from Ethiopia is disputed and consequently he has his support pulled from underneath him. He is unable to continue attending his college, and has to move to a hostel in South London to share a room with another male adult before he is to be deported to any city or town within the UK. I feel angry at the arbitrariness of these decisions that will impact well being and stability in the short term and prospects and aspirations in the long term. I feel angry at the careless writing of the formal decision and the lack of interest in this person, his personal trajectory and his potential (from those who have power over him and the power of the state behind them.) Another seventeen year old refugee, suffering post traumatic shock, breaks down in the hostel because the carpet outside his room is being refurbished and he proclaims on the ground ‘no change, no change’ with tears weeping from his eyes and emotion heavy, having slept solidly and been unresponsive and self-starved for the past few weeks. When the ambulance take nearly two hours to arrive and the paramedics then refuse to take him in for a proper assessment, I also feel angry. After six or seven calls to the A&E over the next week, where paramedics repeatedly say they cannot help the man until he lays out in detail how exactly he is planning to take his own life (he must be deemed a clear threat to himself or others), I feel that the shelter is being let down by the mental health act. The state refuses to allow paramedics to judge a situation based on need rather than clumsy, unforgiving letter of the law. When a resident of the shelter allows another resident to borrow his new phone in order to make an emergency call, and subsequently the fails to return it (he has a history of stealing phones) and the police struggle to carry out the simple task of taking a full and accurate statement it leaves the three of us who visited the police station lacking any confidence in the system or the prospect of justice. I am angry. The man – boy, more accurately – who took the phone, claimed that he was chased by a gang and in the process dropped the phone and couldn’t stop for fear of being stabbed. Whether this a truth or lie, does it matter? For the system and the services have failed him to this point. They’ve left him unable to deal with family issues, out of education or a job, a so called social nuisance, a menace. Why don’t we search for a long term solution for this boy’s behavior and others, rather than yet another quick and meaningless fix? Instead of sending him back to prison where the perpetual cycle of crime and punishment will continue and his self-identification as a criminal will crystalise, why don’t we invest in intensive and personal communication and counseling, to deal with the underlying issues, the real and deep rooted causes of this man who presents himself as tough and old and uninterested and a failure but who is actually young and open and all potential?
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