Joseph Murphy (pictured above) is not an undercover journalist. He’s an oil rig worker based in Dundee. But when he found out his Council was paying workers called City Centre Ambassadors to bully and intimidate homeless people out of the town centre, he decided to go undercover to expose the truth.
More Than Just an Average Joe
Joseph Murphy is a man who cares about people.
Last October, he raised £3,000 running a marathon on his oil rig. What makes it all the more remarkable is that he completed the race between two 12 hour shifts…and didn’t even consider himself a runner.
Then he saw Shelter’s 2013 Christmas campaign last year, with this image:
While some ignored it, and others shook their heads…Joe felt a compulsion to act. He decided to raise money for Shelter by spending last Christmas Day running a marathon on the Tay Bridge. His newborn son was just two days old, and he remained committed to the run – he even coordinated a Christmas meal for homeless people of the town and distributed leftover food to feed as many people as he could.
As I say, this is a guy who cares about people.
I was lucky enough to speak to Joe after hearing him interviewed on the UK Collapse radio show “Ginger Snaps”, hosted by Chris Morgan. I was deeply inspired by his story.
After becoming increasingly concerned about the rising number of homeless people due to ideological austerity, and the amount of food people waste – Joe began making regular food drops to local homeless people. He says:
“It really doesn’t take much effort to turn your leftovers into a decent meal for somebody who has nothing”.
During one of these food drops, he was interrupted by a one of Dundee’s red-coated City Centre Ambassadors who came and ordered the homeless people to move along. Joe asked him under what authority he was making such an order, but the Ambassador reportedly dismissed his concerns and continued to order the homeless people along.
A homeless man named John told Joe that this was business as usual for the City Centre Ambassadors. According to John they were very intimidating, and would order the homeless people away from the Town Centre. If they refused, the Ambassadors would call police and make false allegations of ‘aggressive begging’ against them. The police would then come and arrest the homeless people or move them out of the centre by force.
In Scotland, the Vagrancy Act of 1824 was repealed in 1982, which means police and councils can only act against homeless people if they commit a crime. Since then, the Civic Government Act’s provision of ‘aggressive begging’ has been utilised to criminalise homeless people simply for being homeless.
Reporting to the City Centre Assistant you will assist with the development of a comprehensive and efficient City Centre Management service to Dundee’s City Centre. The primary role of the Ambassador will be to meet and greet visitors, augment the activities of the security and police services, interface with businesses and undertake minor environmental duties. You will spend most of your time outdoors patrolling the City Centre.
Nowhere here does it mention the task of moving homeless people away from public view. Yet this has been a key activity of the City Centre Ambassadors.
But no one would believe the word of homeless people over the City Centre Ambassadors in their red coats. So Joe decided he would grow out his beard and pretend to be a homeless person in order to catch the City Centre Ambassadors in the act.
(A homeless veteran in a UK town centre)
On 8th March 2014, Joe hit the streets and took a camera with to live stream life as a homeless person in Dundee. The film makes interesting viewing. Homeless people give him tips – such as keeping his coin jar further away from him as passersby won’t want to come too close. There is also the sense of separation – of no longer being part of ordinary life.
Just 27 minutes into filming, as Joe is shown sitting quietly, interacting with the public only when spoken to – a City Centre Ambassador arrives on the scene and immediately orders him to move on. The manner in which the Ambassador speaks to him is curt and intimidating. His greeting is “You’re new”, followed by “Stand up”. When Joe refuses to stand, move or give his name – the Ambassador moves a little away and calls the police – just as Joe had been told would happen, by homeless people in the town.
The behaviour of the Ambassador is in stark contrast with the Job Advert, which asks for candidates who “have a willingness to help and a pleasant friendly manner. Good communication and interpersonal skills are also essential”.
Joe decided to contact Dundee Council to see if these City Centre Ambassadors were acting outside their remit, or on the instructions of the council.
Video streaming by UstreamHe is told by the Council worker that the Ambassadors are required to move homeless people on – referring to them as an “eyesore”and a “hindrance to business”.
Joe continues to find ways to support and help the homeless people of Dundee.
It’s Time to Start Caring About People
I spent around an hour speaking with Joe, and his compassion blew me away. He embodies “Don’t get angry, get involved”…or as we often admit here “Get angry, then do something useful with it”. We all have excuses for being angry and not getting involved – we have a demanding job, we have children, we just want to enjoy our time off and not have to think about things like homelessness and politics. So I asked Joe, what would you say to people to have them give up the excuses and get involved?
“People think they’re involved because they feel things and talk about it. But we need to put those words into action. It’s time to start giving a damn about other people, your community.
The best form of education is demonstration. I’m only doing what I can.”
His personal inspiration comes from his Gran, who died last Christmas. She was clearly a huge character in Joe’s life. Although she had 15 children, she still invited homeless people in off the street to provide them with food and clothing. Joe believes it is her example of kindness and compassion that resonates through the generations of his family. As we wrapped up the call, we got into a brief conversation about giving as the ultimate act of revolution in a society that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Giving is also one of the most personally rewarding things you can ever do. It is not a sacrifice. There is real joy in being part of your community and a feeling of elation and peace comes with the knowledge that your actions make a profound difference in the lives of others. We expressed confusion that more people hadn’t figured this out. I say to Joe: “It’s like everyone wants a revolution, but no one wants to change”. He laughed and said:
“That’s it. The revolution isn’t out there. The revolution is here with us. All we need to do to make it happen, is change the way we behave.”
And with that, our call was over and I smiled for the rest of the day. Joe has a series of fundraising events happening this year, including running two marathons this Christmas Day. I’ll be covering these as they happen so you can support Joe in his efforts. Now, what does your personal revolution look like?
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