The Banshees of Beeston

The most common form of despair is not being who you are” 

Søren Kierkegaard

Each morning, here on the corner of Dewsbury and Tunstall Road, we are awoken by the sounds of a lost soul crying in the streets outside. The crying is continual and punctuated with screams and shouts. On occasion I have witnessed the source of this mournful inner city human cockerel, ushering in the existential dread of each new day. I use the term human very loosely as drugs have robbed this poor individual of the last vestiges of his humanity. This stooped, shambling remnant in his dirty oversized clothes, arms and legs a patchwork of suppurating wounds and sores, and a face hidden by an out of control beard, shuffles through the streets in all weather, his feet hanging out of his unlaced trainers crying from a long forgotten corner of his soul. 

The best way to keep a prisoner from escaping is to make sure he never knows he’s in prison” 

Fyodor Dostoevsky

The lives of the many such individuals that populate the streets of South Leeds are a tragedy, and it is a tragedy that we are all expected to live with.The banshee is a grim augury of imminent death. It is hard to imagine these shambolic apparitions as small children, going to school, playing football, visiting the cinema, basically living a normal life. Maybe their lives were never like that, maybe it was a childhood of neglect that consigned their adult life to the prison of addiction. A prison without walls and therefore without a roof as well. Either way, an error of judgement somewhere down the line has robbed these lost souls of their autonomy and left them in hock to the dealer. And it seems like the area has plenty of those too. 

Whilst the shelves of the local supermarkets in a post-brexit, post-covid UK become ever more bare as time goes on, there are no supply side problems on the street. In fact, supply and demand over lockdown went through the roof. The massive influx of such characters into this area has led to a feeling of threat, particularly amongst women, often the targets of aggressive begging. In each bus stop from the land on which Jacob’s Ladder stands as far as the Dewsbury Road Hub there is a rough sleeper. The sleeper outside The Hub at night has his wheelchair parked up next to him. The bed of the sleeper on Tunstall Road, empty during the day, is neatly made with part of the duvet turned back to reveal a spreading patch of fresh blood at ankle level. 

Q. No Adults (2019) Phill Hopkins & Jadene Imbusch

Frosty Jack visits the corner of Dewsbury and Tunstall Road two or three times a day. With each visit he slowly makes his way through a litre and a half bottle of Frosty Jack. He finishes it, drops it down behind the car park wall that he sits on, and sometimes falls backwards off. This cycle repeats up to three times a day. One day, he sees me sweeping the street and throwing the rubbish in the bin at the end of the street. He shouts to me in a semi-coherent drawl “Ah’ve putm’bottleinthebin”. I give him the thumbs up. He hasn’t, it is on the floor behind him. Finally one day, I am sweeping the street and I open the bin, at the bottom are three empty bottles. This has happened ever since. Each day from his perch on the wall he shouts over “Ah’ve putm’bottleinthebin” and I give him the thumbs up. It has been nearly three weeks since I last saw him. I worry for him when he is not there, equally I worry about him when he is there too.

Smeg (2019) Phill Hopkins & Jadene Imbusch

I feel that it is important that we acknowledge the difficulties such people have but without feeding further into their addictions. Not only will it impact their own physical and mental health further, but also allows the authorities off the hook. As 2022 came to an end we had a homeless man camping at the end of the street. Having dragged two bed mattresses from somewhere, to behind a local takeaway bin where he tied a sheet up for privacy and made it his home. As the  weather got worse so did his physical health as he would lie on his mattress in all weather, wandering up and down the street on a crutch. Several reports to the homeless organisations and Leeds City Council where met with the suggestion that he could not be moved on as he had made a home there with the mattress’ and blanket, regardless of the fact that there  was no roof and he and his bed were getting soaked every night as the weather turned.

Den Stuff (2019) Phill Hopkins & Jadene Imbusch

Come winter and the weather dropped below zero, the council stepped in to put him in accommodation, a B&B, which he checked himself out of a few hours later and returned to his bed in the street. A second time he was removed and put in accommodation, this time they also removed his bedding so that he could not return. I was reluctant to make an assumption as to why a person would act this way but the reasoning became apparent weeks later. On New Year’s Day I took to the street to do a deep clean and discovered burnt spoons, bloodied cotton pads, poo and used syringes.    

I have called upon the homeless services on several occasions on behalf of the characters sitting outside Aldi only to be told after they visit, that they are not actually homeless but are choosing to be there and can  do nothing to assist them. Supply is on the street therefore that is where they need to be at all times. I have on occasion witnessed a couple of these individuals leaning into cars often black with tinted windows, could even be the same car, before returning to their spot to ask for the change from peoples trolleys. I have not actually witnessed anything happening on these occasions but one could make an educated guess and it would probably be correct.

Home Is Where The Homeless Are (2019) Jadene Imbusch

There but for the grace of an indifferent universe go I

If we were to talk about it in religious terms, which I rarely do these days, we could view it in the terms that St Augustine suggests “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Regardless of any religious beliefs, it is important to remember that these souls, lost and languishing in some man-made hell are humans like you and I. We have no idea as to how they have reached this point in life; whether through ill  advised acts of misadventure, abuse, neglect or the current economic crisis affecting more and more of the poor on a daily basis as it worsens, so it is important to ensure that what help we can offer is useful and without judgement. 

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet he refers to being ‘cruel only to be kind: Thus bad begins and worse remains behind’. This is not an invitation to physical or mental cruelty against others, but nudges to try and encourage a change in thinking or behaviour. Just as when we pull a baby away from a fire to prevent it from hurting itself in that immediate moment, we are also thinking about the future of the child and its safety in adult life. 

Pitched. (2019) Jadene Imbusch

In the case of those dwelling on our streets we must consider the future of the individual, but also ourselves and those around us. We must analyse the actions that we take before we take them, and whether that action will relieve their suffering, maybe briefly, or contribute to further embedment in their current struggles.

The artworks in this article were produced by Phill Hopkins and Jadene Imbusch for a 2019 project about the issues faced by the homeless and the communities of South Leeds.

Bruce Davies | June 2023


2 Replies to “The Banshees of Beeston”

  1. Very well written piece. Disheartening stuff. There has to be a point in time when the Social Services managers must realise that these poor folk are unable to judge what is best for them. The inference that at some juncture of there has been an adult conversation between Social Services and an individual that has resulted in an agreement that the individual is best left on the street is wholly wrong. They are being left to die and that cannot be right.

    1. Thank you. I don’t intend for the article to be disheartening. The situation is without doubt disheartening for those involved and for those who have to live with it, but I feel that it is a question of us working out how we address the situation in the short term whilst petitioning the powers that be for help in the long-term. I don’t know the answers unfortunately but maybe with a combined effort and knowledge we, as a community, could move things on a bit further.

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