Journalist Tamsen Courtenay Discusses New Book on Homelessness at The Shankly

Homelessness is a cause close to Lawrence Kenwright’s heart.

The owner of Signature Living has regularly gone out of his way to assist Liverpool’s homeless community. Last year, he set up a temporary shelter at Kingsway House in one of the coldest winters on record, opening the building to vulnerable people living on the streets. More recently, Lawrence announced plans for a huge homeless shelter on Cotton Street, near Bramley-Moore Dock, which will officially open on October 10.

Here at Signature Living, we had the recent privilege of hosting investigative journalist Tamsen Courtenay at The Shankly Hotel, for a talk on her new book about the homeless community in Central London.

Tamsen Courtenary
Tamsen Courtenary in conversation with Roger Jonas

Four Feet Under by Tamsen Courtenay

Four Feet Under is based upon Tamsen’s experience of spending two months talking to anybody living on the streets who would speak to her. She promised herself that whenever she saw someone not sleeping, she would introduce herself and ask them to tell her their experiences.

Tamsen was inspired her to take to the streets of London and document what she calls “a tiny drop in the ocean” of our country’s homeless crisis after her own experiences volunteering in a shelter during a particularly difficult Christmas in her life. She credits the people she spoke to that night with helping her as much as she helped them and wanted to give them a platform.

Tamsen Courtenay
Tamsen Courtenay in conversation with Roger Jonas

And it’s the detailed first-hand experiences of those she’s spoken to that really strike a chord with the reader and humanise the people we walk past on the street every day when society tells us that they should be ignored.

Throughout her talk, she explains that the purpose of Four Feet Under is simply to be read and, though it may seem obvious, to remind us of the importance of giving the homeless community a voice so that people understand what they need and want. The book, according to Tamsen is about educating the public and changing people’s perception.

The Bigger Picture Beyond London

Signature Living is only too familiar public opinion on homelessness.  When we opened the Signature Shelter at Kingsway House last year,  it was met with a wealth of criticism and disapproval.

Tamsen credits Signature Living with being a “spit in the eye” to compliance versus stability. She also believes Kingsway was a leading success after passing hurdles laid out by the council and government and abiding by constraining technicalities while also supporting the homeless in Liverpool.

But it’s not just support from organisations like Signature Living or authors like Tamsen telling these important stories that can fix the homeless situation in the UK – the answer lies within a much wider issue.

Tamsen Courtenay
Tamsen Courtenay in conversation with Roger Jonas

“Almost everyone I met either had a mental health issue and ended up on the street because of it or by living this horrific life became mentally damaged,” says Tamsen.  “We now live in a society where we don’t have adequate care. There isn’t a humane society that would allow someone as damaged as the people I met to by trying to fend for themselves alone with no support. And I think that’s key.

”Even if we did start to care for each other and not just ones that we recognise, but also the ones bundled up on the pavement, there’s still no real planning, there’s no real thinking and no real housing.

“Even if we gave them housing, they don’t know how to take care of them, how to manage finances, how to take their medication. There’s so much needed. It is an epidemic.”

Liverpool and the wider country are still in the thick of a major homeless epidemic that is only getting worse. The council seems to be at capacity, so it is up to the efforts of others to help address and work towards eradicating this dreadful crisis.

Signature Living and Liverpool’s Homeless

Looking after our own is something very close to the hearts of Lawrence and Katie Kenwright and the team at Signature Living, and plans are now well underway to create a brand-new initiative to support those far less fortunate than ourselves through no fault of their own.

Following our experience and learning, we will be working closely with specialists from mental health, drug dependency, welfare and any support agencies dedicated to helping our homeless friends.

If you’re asking yourself what’s next for Tamsen herself, she’s exploring the idea of writing a similar book on the underlying causes of poverty with a similar structure to Four Feet Under, once again increasing awareness of the holes in the system.

Four Feet Under is available to purchase now.

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