Breakdown Britain

HE WAS 24 YEARS OLD and he hadn’t even seen Cathy Come Home. In 1966 Des Wilson was working on a campaign called HHSE from a dingy London office. In an interview to be published next week he tells LPW (go here to subscribe) what happened next:

‘I’d been planning the campaign for nearly a year and had no idea about the film. They showed it, and next day all hell broke loose! The publicity was amazing. At the launch of HHSE the hall was crammed with journalists and TV cameras. It was like a presidential press conference.’

Armed with the PR ‘miracle’ of Cathy Come Home, he toured the country showing it at public meetings:

‘I’d turn up in the hall for the last five minutes, and walk on to the stage just after that last very graphic scene where the children are torn away from her. I’d find an audience sitting there, stunned. It made it so easy for us.’

In a wide-ranging interview the founding director of HHSE describes how he broke the rules on charities engaging in political activity in a series of controversial campaigns and how the key was to challenge the view that if people were homeless it was somehow their own fault: ‘The great thing about campaigning is that you’ve got to get people saying “yes, I see that”. The way to do that is to get them to move on, to give them a thought they hadn’t thought of before.’

In Wilson’s day the received wisdom was that only a few thousand people were homeless. ‘Ministers were defining homelessness by how many people were in hostels on any given night. It was insane! You could be sleeping in a car over there with four children and you wouldn’t be homeless by their definition.’

Back in 2013, statistics on statutory homelessness published yesterday showed there were 19,390 acceptances in the third quarter of the year, down 22% on 2005. The number of households in temporary accommodation was 93,090, down 8% on 2005 but still double the number seen in 1997.