From the April 2017 edition…
Homeless death on our city centre streets… Who cares?
THE tragic death of a young homeless man, sleeping rough in Glasgow city centre, must galvanise all with a concern for society’s most vulnerable to work harder to alleviate suffering and isolation.
That is the determined view of Archbishop Philip Tartaglia in the wake of the death of Matthew Bloomer. His body was found in a shop doorway at the Trongate on Argyle Street on the morning of 21 March, as people made their way to work.
Archbishop Tartaglia said: “It was distressing to hear about the death of this young man on the streets of central Glasgow.
“While our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, it is a wake-up call for all of us to look out for the welfare of our neighbours, especially those in greatest need.”
The Archbishop added: “Pope Francis has spoken of a culture of indifference which insulates people from the hardships of others.
“As a caring society, we must counter such attitudes with concrete gestures and initiatives to alleviate the worst effects of addiction, isolation and mental illness.”
In the days following the death of the 28 year-old father of two, graffiti was scrawled on the windows of a disused shop in the city centre, demanding the council open up empty buildings to rough sleepers.
A spokesperson from Glasgow City Council said: “Our city centre street team works with rough sleepers every night to get them into support services, including to the winter shelter.
“The reasons for homelessness can be complex and moving on from a chaotic lifestyle can be very difficult.”
Mr Bloomer’s tragic downward spiral saw him battle with mental health issues and alcoholism, which led to the separation from his children and their mother.
He left his Aberdeen home in search of a new lease of life in the city of his birth – but spent time in prison over Christmas after shoplifting to feed his addiction.
With an estimated 5000 people sleeping rough in Scotland every year, Glasgow’s winter night shelter had its busiest period in 2015, with 605 individuals using the shelter 4060 times – a 94 percent increase on the previous year.
Street teams patrol the city centre at night offering help and several hostels provide accommodation. However, front-line services have voiced concerns at “failures” in the system which perpetuate a vicious cycle of destitution.
Issues such as strict conditions, drugs and intimidation in homeless hostels mean people are less likely to take a bed there for the night, according to Shelter Scotland.
Archbishop Tartaglia said: “There’s no doubt that the problem of homelessness is staring us in the face. Anyone who walks the streets of Glasgow knows it. We all see people sleeping rough and, perhaps, feel unable to do anything to help.
“But when people are dying, we can no longer stand on the side lines. It is time for people to come together to ensure that more is done to address this crisis.”
The Simon Community operates a Rough Sleepers and Vulnerable People (RSVP) team covering Glasgow city and outskirts. Anyone concerned about someone sleeping rough can call them on 0800 027 7466.
Now you’re talking!
Hundreds of refugees have learned English in a ground breaking church led project, but in this first anniversary report BRIAN SWANSON hears an appeal for more parish groups to play their part while ALAN MacDERMID gives his personal view as a classroom volunteer
A Glasgow parish priest is urging fellow clergymen to provide English classes for refugees following a hugely successful initiative at his own church.
Father Tim Curtis, of St Aloysius, Garnethill, was speaking on the first anniversary of the project which has seen scores of refugees learn English with the help of a group of dedicated teachers and other volunteers.
The popularity of the classes, which will continue for the foreseeable future, means that there is no spare capacity at the St John Ogilvie Centre prompting Fr Curtis to issue his appeal to other churches to consider similar schemes.
Fr Tim said: “There clearly is a demand. At the start, we had four people on the first day, one person on day two – but, as word spread, they were literally queuing round the block to get in. The numbers have settled now but the demand has not gone away.”
The Jesuit priest’s remarks came as 200 Syrian refugees flew into Glasgow as part of the Government’s Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme which has seen around 1200 find homes through a number of Scottish local authorities in the past 18 months.
Fr Tim stressed: “Many churches have surplus space and many, like us, have teachers and retired teachers as parishioners who I’m sure would be very willing to help.
“It would be wonderful if other churches, especially those in areas where refugees live, were to roll up their sleeves and just go for it.”
The Garnethill project grew from an appeal by Pope Francis for practical responses to the migrant crisis which saw hundreds drown as they crossed the Mediterranean with thousands more forced to live in squalor when they landed on the Greek islands of Kos and Lesbos.
While many communities throughout Europe took migrants in to their homes, the parish council at St Aloysius took advice from Glasgow City Council and began offering English classes.
As well as practical help, the council provided funding, another £1000 came from St Nicholas Care Fund and regular donations from the church’s Poor Fund while books and other equipment was donated by St Aloysius College and Clyde College’s Anniesland Campus.
Over the past year, 250 refugees, mostly from Syria but including those from Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Ethiopia and Egypt have registered for courses.
Numbers fluctuate but every day around 40 students attend two-hour morning or afternoon sessions where they are taught on a rota basis by 28 volunteer teachers – all of whom are vetted under the Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme.
And slowly some success stories are emerging. Ali, who was a solicitor in his native Syria, wants to do similar work here in Glasgow and is determined to greatly improve his English in order to do so.
He said: “I want to learn English because I fought for justice in Syria and I want to fight for justice in this country too.”
Classmate Omar, also from Syria, will be completing his application to take a Masters in mathematics at Strathclyde once his English reaches the required standard.
Volunteer teacher Kay Archibald believes that the friendship that is created among the students from different backgrounds is as life changing as developing language skills.
She said: “They are all so enthusiastic about learning English for all sorts of reasons – mostly to get work here eventually but at a basic level they simply want to communicate and so be come part of the wider community. Everyone involved here is delighted to help them achieve that.”
And with a word of encouragement, Fr Curtis added: “My advice to any parish or church group planning English classes would be to start small, have clear goals, involve yourselves with professionals and explore fund raising from as many different sources as possible.
“Of course, we would be more than happy to talk to these groups about our experiences.”
For more information contact St Aloysius by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Take my word for it … teaching is fun
AFTER a lifetime as a newspaper reporter, I like to think I have a reasonable grasp of English. I had a good grounding in reading – the Beano and the Dandy – and progressed from there. The question is – can I pass on this facility?
Shouldn’t be all that difficult, I think – after all, I’ve helped to raise two children and they are perfectly literate.
But these are men and women with pressing needs – finding work, filling in forms, dealing with bureaucrats, communicating with neighbours and shopkeepers. They don’t have time for bedtime stories or comics.
I am familiar with the venue – a conference room at St Aloysius Ogilvie Centre – through social evenings, lectures and choir practice.
But today is different. The room is thronged with Africans and Middle Easterns – men and women, but mostly young men grouped round tables of about eight – and it buzzes with chatter I know best from the TV news.
We (the tutors) are on a rota and I’ll be doing Tuesdays. Jerome, who is organising today’s events, throws me in at the shallow end, a group of mostly Eritreans who have already learned some of the basics.
The Eritreans are a particularly unfortunate group. Back home, they live under a harsh authoritarian regime which doesn’t get on with its neighbours, and where men are dragooned into indefinite military service for which they are paid a pittance.
Yet Britain and the rest of the EU have been reluctant to accord Eritreans the same refugee/asylum seeker status as other nationals, barring them entry and in some cases, alarmingly, sending them back home to an uncertain fate.
But my group is cheerful and they have reason – they are here, in Glasgow.
Next week it will be people from Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Iran or Syria, each with their stories of suffering and waiting, waiting for the next flimsy boat across the Mediterranean.
We get started and it’s now I come to realise what a complicated language English can be, in ways we normally take for granted.
For example, I am demonstrating the use of “going to” as a future tense – an alternative to “will” or “shall” – and the students are asked to write a sentence using this form.
So we get: “I am going to stay here,” and “She is going to watch television” and “He is going to have a sandwich”.
So far so good. Then one of them writes: “He is going to Nottingham.” Ah.
This is where it’s always helpful to have one or two in a group who know enough to help out with translation, and he seems to get the point. The point being that things aren’t always what they seem in English.
But at least it’s a chance to fight my rearguard action on behalf of fellow-pedants everywhere, for example making sure my students know their “its” from their “it’s”, or impressing on them the distinction between less and fewer, or the nuance between “I want” and “I would like”.
However we are also encouraged to go slightly off-piste with the more advanced students by throwing in a few local idioms.
So if you’re walking down Sauchiehall Street and hear a flow of Arabic punctuated by “It’s pure Baltic, isn’t it?” you’ll know who to blame.
All in all, it’s a morning well spent. They are willing students, we’re all learning from the experience, and we are helping to build a future for people who have lost so much.
If it’s a way of cocking a snook at the Donald Trumps and Nigel Farages of this world, so much the better.