The appalling conditions in the Bellgrove hotel are a horrifying reminder of how we treat our poorest and most defeated citizens
The most important news story of the year so far has not been George Osborne‘s ill-considered portrayal of an absentee landlord in Edinburgh the other week. The Tories, ever wedded to metaphors about killing foreigners, have called this the “Dambuster” moment. In fact, the entire debate on Scottish independence is simply not as important as the sharp reminder we got last week about how we permit the poorest and most defeated in our society to be treated.
The Bellgrove hotel on Glasgow‘s Gallowgate, in the east end of the city, must have been something to behold once. If it’s not art deco then the original constructor was probably trying to create a close facsimile of it. Now, you walk past it on the way to Celtic Park on a match day, barely noticing it but knowing that it exists in the city’s folklore as a last-chance saloon. That though, doesn’t even begin to describe the reality of it. The Daily Record, doing what it has always done best, sent their man in for an overnight stay and then splashed his report across its front page. The squalor and deprivation that he witnessed in this place made me ashamed to be Glaswegian.
Without repeating the crushing detail of John Ferguson’s brilliant report, the Bellgrove hotel is a place where men go to die, expiring in their own waste and choked by alcohol and drugs – 150 of them at any one time. This hellhole has a staff of two, presumably to keep the costs down. For the Bellgrove is a privately-run facility that rakes in several million pounds a year for the two city property magnates who own it. They make their money from the housing benefit these men receive each fortnight. Basically, the state hands over millions of pounds every year to this pair to keep its most embarrassing citizens away from polite society.
“Don’t worry,” we say (and it is you and I) “keep them in as much filth as you like, we won’t be asking any questions.” There are several things to consider here, not the least of which is how any decent person can make so much money out of running such a dwelling place yet knowingly allow the residents to live in such conditions.
Glasgow city council’s scandalous response, from its leader Gordon Mathieson, was to say that they no longer referred homeless men to the Bellgrove. “Our social workers have tried to work with residents to help them make positive decisions about living circumstances,” said Mathieson. “Positive decisions about their circumstances.” What in the name of God does that mean? There are people dying in there, Gordon.
Since then they, and the rest of us who conveniently forget about these places (or choose not to know about them), have allowed a pair of privateers to exploit the tide of human misery that flows through this facility. There appears to be no regulation, no minimum standard of human dignity which a place like the Bellgrove can be made to reach.
There are other places like the Bellgrove hotel that exist in Scotland. We permit slum landlords to make obscene profits from them because we have decided that the men and women who go to reside there are beyond hope and are to be considered to be lower than animals. We forget that they were all fathers, sons, brothers and uncles once and that for various reasons life has chewed them up and spat them out. Divorce, unemployment, ill health, bullying, violence, low pay; each or any of these bumps and blows can send someone off in a bad direction and the rest of us would do well to withhold moral judgment about how a soul has arrived at such a place.
read the rest of this article by Kevin McKenna in the Guardian(1/3/2014) here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/01/scotland-poverty-homeless-bellgrove-glasgow?CMP=twt_gu