November 18: Park Bench, Portland Square, Bristol. No, this is no cute address given by some children to their favourite bench. Rather, in the latest demonstration of just how finicky the British can be to minor details, a humble park bench in the town of Bristol, is soon going to have an address. And given its own postcode to boot.
This means that if someone sends a letter to the above address, it will reach the Park Bench.
Actually, it was the humane gesture of Bristol’s local health authority, that led to the christening. They found that this was the only way to allow the six vagrants or homeless people who sleep on the bench, register for free medical care. Without a fixed address it is difficult to qualify for Britain’s free medical facilities, says an article reported in ‘The Indian Express’.
Tony Palmer, the manager of a clinic in Bristol that treats many homeless people, agrees it is a good idea. “Homeless vagrants are never turned away, but the dummy address allows us to give rough sleepers better care”.
The bench may be light and airy, and very centrally located, but can it be sold as a residence? So far nobody has volunteered to buy it. But curiosity about the bench runs high.
A sizeable number of people live on the streets of cities in Britain. These hobos or tramps, have few possessions to their name, and can be found either begging for money or scrounging for leftover food. A few years ago, well-known pop singer, Phil Collins even wrote a song, ‘Another Day in Paradise’, highlighting the plight of the homeless in London. Despite its outward glitz, London has the largest concentration of tramps in Britain.
It’s a subject of concern and embarrassment for the British government since Britain is a welfare state. This means that the state is obliged to provide certain basic necessities to every British citizen, like free medical care, free education up to the secondary school level, and even homes to those who can’t afford it.
The vagabonds who wander the streets are a reminder to the government that the welfare state concept is not the roaring success Britain likes to project it as, particularly to developing countries.
Despite the failure, however, the idea of giving a park bench an address to ensure that its ‘residents’ get enough medical attention is a little touching. It demonstrates the lengths to which the local health authority goes to show that they care. Will their counterparts in other countries sit up and take notice?