We visit a busy Birmingham roundabout where homeless people are living in tents
Heartbreaking scenes at a busy roundabout in Birmingham where homeless people have erected tents amid piles of clothes and children’s toys
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When an overgrown pathway opened up between the trees I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to find. I’d been told homeless people were living inside this Birmingham roundabout, but that didn’t quite prepare me for the sobering experience of seeing tangible evidence up close.
Piles of rubbish caught my attention first: carrier bags, cans of pop, plastic cups, vapes. But then far more worrying signs of inhabitation: a suitcase, clothes, mattresses, children’s toys, empty baggies, needles and a tent.
The leafy setting does not block out the sound of drivers whizzing past. It’s one of the busiest islands in the city and a danger spot for drivers running red lights. It’s not peaceful, nor does it feel particularly safe. And yet I can understand why a vulnerable person might choose this as their escape; hidden away from unwanted attention. No one was present when I visited, though it was clear to me that this was somebody’s home.
The blue tent and a makeshift gazebo before me did not feature in pictures of the unusual campsite sent by a contact in July – meaning it was pitched up in the last few weeks. And if there was any doubt, a Tesco receipt, with the date ’09/08/23′, all but confirmed that I probably wouldn’t be alone for long if I’d decided to stick around.
I had thought about what I would ask the island’s inhabitants on the journey over. A simple ‘are you okay?’ might go a long way, I figured. Instead, with it eerily quiet, I chose to leave after a few minutes. Mostly because, the longer I stayed, the more it felt like I was trespassing on a private garden… and my questions might not have been welcomed anyway. We have chosen not to disclose the exact location of the roundabout.
What has Birmingham City Council said about the discovery of homeless people living in tents on a busy roundabout?
Birmingham City Council told me that their homeless outreach team are “aware of the location” and visit the spot “several times per week”. The authority added “they have not found anyone rough sleeping but will continue to visit”.
I also spoke to a local activist who said he is concerned for the well-being of those living inside the island. He added: “Apart from the health impact of living at the cut-off point for the Clean Air Zone, where pollution levels are at their highest in the city, these homeless people are at risk from rat bites, insanitary conditions and being attacked by people.
“The social isolation some of them feel can impact on their mental health as well as their physical health. Having candles to provide light at night, and using open fires for warmth in winter, can lead to their camps catching fire and causing them severe burns.
“In a society that claims it cares for people, there is a vulnerable community that exists that many choose to ignore. Amongst this community are a significant number of vulnerable women dependent on drugs and alcohol to get them through the harsh realities of their daily lives. No one should be homeless, and no one should be excluded from the health and social care services that they need.”
How many homeless people are there in Birmingham?
In Birmingham, 2.1 per 100,000 people were estimated to be homeless at the beginning of 2023. The national average currently stands at 1.8 people.
Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities figures for the start of 2023 show 917 households in Birmingham were estimated to be homeless and were owed a relief duty - which requires housing authorities to help them secure accommodation. This was down from 968 the year before.
Of the 917 households, there were 158 single parents and 98 couples with dependent children homeless in Birmingham between January and March.
Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities figures show 917 households in Birmingham were estimated to be homeless and were owed a relief duty, which requires housing authorities to help them secure accommodation. This was down from 968 the year before.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “With record numbers of people becoming homeless, the time for empty words on building social homes and overdue promises on ending no fault evictions has long passed. No-fault evictions are fuelling homelessness and throwing thousands of families’ lives into turmoil.”