As part of our Lexical Lab summer school, we offer a full and varied social and cultural programme, but most Sundays, students are free to go off wherever they please. Last weekend, a couple of people went on a day-trip down to Brighton . . . and came back shocked by the levels of homelessness they’d encountered. Having been down in Brighton for the annual IATEFL conference earlier this year, I’ve seen first-hand how desperate the situation there is at the moment. One in 69 people in the city are either in temporary accommodation or sleeping rough, making it by far the worst area in the south-east for homelessness.
Many coastal towns in England are seeing not only record numbers of people falling through the cracks and ending up on the streets, but also high levels of drug and alcohol abuse. These towns are often quite deprived and are very dependent on tourism. This means work is often seasonal, and so the population is quite transient. Lots of people come to work during the summer months and then go elsewhere once the work dries up in the autumn.
Many others simply wash up on the coast after years of drifting through life. The sea is where the land stops, where their wandering stops and seaside towns and cities are, in a very real sense, the last-chance saloon for them: their last chance to turn things around and get back on their feet.
In everyday spoken English, we often use last-chance saloon to describe a situation beyond which hope or good fortune will greatly diminish. Young footballers who were once hailed as the next big thing, but who then failed to fulfill their early potential and who have moved from one club to another may find that after their latest move, they really are in the last-chance saloon: fail to impress here, and that’ll be the end of their underwhelming career. They’ll be out on their arse! As the Brexit negotiations grind towards their grim conclusion, Theresa May is regularly warned that she’s approaching the last-chance saloon for a deal. A petty criminal who’s been up in front of the judge a few times too many, but thus far has somehow managed to avoid jail, may well be warned that he’s now drinking in the last-chance saloon and that any tiny little misdemeanour will see him end up behind bars.
For many, of course, coastal towns really are the end of the road and life on the streets can be very precarious. We’re living in an age in which compassion is in short supply and the media actively encourages us to look down on the most vulnerable in society. If you’d like to get a fuller sense of why so many people end up in these situations, you could do worse than read this wonderful BBC article – Homeless by the sea.
- Do certain cities in your country have shockingly high levels of homelessness? Why?
- What are the pros and cons for a town if there’s a transient population?
- Do you know any companies, politicians, sports people who are in the last-chance saloon?
- Do you know anyone who’s basically just drifted through life?
- Can you think of any actors, musicians or athletes who failed to fulfill their early potential? What went wrong?