So on 13th August 2018 the Tory Government announced their intentions to eliminate rough sleeping within a decade and prove yet again that they can spin a laudable objective over a period, beyond which they may be accountable and with a risible budget, 50% of which had already been announced and in a context which ignores the massive level of cuts which have caused the problems in the first place.
The analogy I would use to describe the Tories approach to homeless, is akin to an overflowing bath full of water… They have control of the taps and progressively turn them ever more open, whilst legislating for local authorities to only have control of an ever reducing sized plughole. This recent announcement is not even the mop and bucket needed to clean up the mess but merely that they are looking for a cheap set on Ebay!
I have been and continue to be on a steep learning curve about the subject of homelessness since becoming involved in it in December 2013, when I set up and started to run the Coventry Winter Night Shelter. At the end of that first Winter I remember people from officialdom all clamouring for data/statistics and me resisting on the basis that I wanted to provide them with my analysis of the issues that I had encountered and not simply to allow my findings to fit their agenda. It is vitally important to understand the issues surrounding homelessness and not just the numbers, to seek a proper resolution to any problem.
I say this to highlight the dangers of politicising issues using data alone to sway opinion, rather than educating people to understand and make better informed decisions. If we as Labour supporters simply blame a Tory Government with numbers, then the Tories will blame Labour Councils, using those same numbers simply dressed up in different clothes. Our argument needs to be irresistible to everyone and not just convincing to each other.
We also need to acknowledge just how much effort goes into helping those on the streets from a range of local people and groups, especially over the winter months. It is through these shared experiences that we understand the common frustrations, that no matter what is being done, those needs continue to increase. We see that homelessness is now affecting more people across the generations and from more ordinary circumstances than we may have experienced previously. Ultimately though, Government cannot abdicate from its responsibility to take necessary measures to reduce homelessness and it is particularly irritating to see local successes compromised and penalised by deeper cuts, rather like a perverse square rule of welfare ie: National Government reduce funding – the need goes up – Local People/Government picks up the slack – National Government reduces funding further.
Who are the homeless?
What you see on the streets is NOT the full story of homelessness but IS a barometer of the issue……. just the visible tip of an otherwise hidden iceberg of need….. the more you see the bigger the problem. There are so many more living in hostels, bed & breakfasts with an incalculable number sofa surfing with family and/or friends.
Homelessness including street homelessness is NOT about the complex issues of those we see but more simply the inability of someone to be able to maintain permanent accommodation (ie; political commentator Andrew Marr is alleged to have had and extra marital affair, been a heavy drinker and heavy smoker and has suffered a stroke and now has a physical disability, but this complexity, has not made him homeless).
It is a national problem and ultimately the responsibility of Government Ministers to resolve. The Government mantra is a call ‘to make work pay’ but the outcome has rather been to make ‘not working unaffordable’ and even working in the low pay, zero hours, gig economy unsustainable without being topped up.
What those finding themselves homeless need, is time to establish themselves and to slowly rise from their pit of despair and not to be punished in to jobs which largely do not exist for them in their current situation. Many have given up walking through the revolving door of the limited help available and which eventually sees them back where they started with their feelings of failure reinforced, perceiving themselves as either victims of the system or architects of their own downfall.
What is needed, is a guarantee of a place to live FIRST and then help to deal with their issues and support back into society. Having no address makes legitimate employment unlikely and leaves many prey to exploitation and abuse and even less chance if any complexities are not properly addressed. It seems to me at times that Government Ministers have this vision of someone on the streets, tucked up in a warm sleeping bag with a cup of coffee, having cleaned their teeth and changed into their pyjamas and on their laptop, plugged into the shop door and connected to Wifi, searching for jobs and places to rent! The real story is of someone very cold snatching a few moments of broken sleep, continually nervous of those passing by and completely unconnected to anything and in no fit state to reasonably engage with anyone! Homelessness, just like and illness, takes time to recover from and usually requires support to either return to normal, or more likely adjust to the new circumstances.
All that having been said ……….The real disturbing and hidden part of this iceberg of need is of children and families squashed into B&B’s, sharing rooms, in hostels and sofa surfing, the statistics for which are very hard to see as anything other than a gross underestimation of the problem. I would also argue, that the focus of attention on street homelessness is disproportionate to the overall issue of homelessness itself. Not only are these environments unsuitable for people to live in and detrimental towards health and development, especially of children but come at a massive cost to Local Government who, are already kept strapped for cash.
Much is talked about in the news about the shortage of housing and proposed affordable homes initiatives but it is far less the case that they are homeless for the lack of housing stock but more often than for the lack of funds to be able to procure and sustain the costs of the accommodation.
Unless there is a drastic and wholesale change to the way in which homelessness is addressed, the situation can only deteriorate. We face the choice between becoming immune to the problem, or fighting in every way possible to bring dignity this vulnerable section of our community.
Article submitted by Nobby Clarke – Founder and former Coordinator of Coventry Winter Night Shelter. Do you have something to submit? Send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org