From walking the beat to sleeping on the street

Published on 13 January 2019

From walking the beat to sleeping on the street

Homeless ex-policeman Russell Monk on how, like many others, he has fallen through the cracks of a broken system.

Russell served in Leeds but after struggling with mental health issues he left his job and ended up sleeping rough. To help get back on his feet he has sold The Big Issue in Exeter and London. This is his account of how failings in the system let some people fall through the cracks......

I am writing this article in relation to my experiences, which led me to become homeless in London nine days before Christmas. Basically I have been made homeless by the systems in place. I have no drink or drug issues.

Five years ago I was a serving police officer with West Yorkshire Police. My beat was Leeds city centre. I spent two years studying Police Studies at Huddersfield University. Having learned wonderful policies and ideas about the way the police should operate and the root causes of crime, I found the real world of policing was nothing more than a revolving door of issues with no real direction when it came to solving the problems.

I found that most of my colleagues were disheartened and most were counting down to retirement. I remember one colleague had a clock counting down as his screensaver.

'The theories I learned at university about crime could also be a root cause of homelessness'

The theories I learned at university about crime could also be a root cause of homelessness. Broken windows theory is the idea that crime evolves through a gradual process – if a window in a street is broken and not immediately fixed then further windows will become broken as people start to lose interest in the community. Small anti-social occurrences happen, this then leads on to more serious offending until it becomes a crime zone. The ideal is not to police an area once it has become a problem but to fix the window in the first place.

Labelling theory states that if a person labels another person then the person will start to act in a particular way. A child who has been called lazy or stupid will not learn from this and will not start to do more or study harder but in fact will adopt the label given to him.

So if you call someone bad, they will continue to act badly. Call someone a thief and they will continue to steal. Identify someone as living off the dole and they will continue to claim benefits. You have taken away their self-respect and placed them in a box from which they will find it nearly impossible to escape because once you are on the bottom rung of the ladder it is very hard to rise up.

This can be seen in the class system of today and the consequences are not just for that person but also their children. Generations and generations of families have lived in the same class for hundreds of years. How many of the people with high standards of living today have actually earned their lifestyle? For most it has been luck, by being born into the right family, given a good education, having inherited money etc.

I am only saying this because of the way I have been labelled whilst working on the Issue. I remember one lady handing me a pound and telling me so proudly how she was already looking after two others, like it was adopt-a-dog week. I smiled and was polite but inside I was dying to ask her how her wealth had been acquired, because apart from shopping I couldn’t fit her in any job. I expect someone was also supporting her and I feel that if all her support was taken away she would be asking to borrow my pitch within a week.

'Without real support everyone ends up homeless'

I’m saying this because the root cause of the problem isn’t the fault of the homeless. They may have made bad decisions in life but without real support everyone ends up homeless. I know this because I have gone from being a police officer to finding myself in that position. I left the police on health grounds after being diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. The reason for this was stress. Every day I was dealing with difficult issues whilst working in the police. It was like a poison, every day being exposed to negative things.

Over time you either develop a hard shell or you become depressed. You lose hope, then you lose empathy, that is why most people think police officers are cocks. Police officers are as human as everyone else but when you are exposed to shit all the time you become hard. It is the same with criminals, soldiers and anyone else. When you deal with problems that have no solutions you become quickly disinterested. The police-crime relationship is a cycle and it continues to go around in circles producing pain for all concerned.

I learned at university that in the 1970s there was a trial to give heroin addicts heroin instead of methadone. This trial was very successful – the addicts started taking control of their own lives, got jobs and settled into normal society – until Maggie stopped it. Think about it, if an addict gets their drugs in a controlled way, there is no need to scurry around all day committing crimes in order to pay for drugs – £1000 of crime for £100 of drugs equals a lot of victims and a lot of resources used to combat the problem. And of course, all the other things that sprout from it – homelessness, mental health issues – maybe that is the window that needs fixing.

The Big Issue article extract: https://www.bigissue.com/latest/homeless-ex-police-officer-walking-beat-sleeping-street/

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