… or to give the full title to a story in today’s (04/06) Southend Echo: “Homeless faced being kicked out if shelter”. Those who read my blogs will know I have an interest (and an involvement and an opinion). I also know about some of the things going on (or not) as well as the personalities and groups referred to in the article, and I have met some of the homeless folk who face being kicked out. I tend only to write on homeless matters from time to time and on some of my many other interests in the interim. While not quite the same situation is what I posted about yesterday – “Fining homeless people”, it does relate in more ways than one. In particular, the two stories highlight the dilemma faced by the authorities on how they deal with rough sleepers, especially if causing a “problem”, and the understandable angry reaction of some of my friends who have an interest in helping the homeless, on what can be viewed as a heavy handed approach when dealing with vulnerable people who have few alternatives, who need practical help and human kindness.
I need to lay my cards on the table. When taken to task by an irate Facebook friend for being too soft and too appeasing to those services that ought to help but don’t, there were a number of things I would have liked to say but didn’t but, as this is my space and I am a free agent, I can point out to detractors the errors of their ways and suggest they listen to what I have to say and learn. My own involvement with homeless folk goes back many years and a good deal of that is to do with helping out at the coal face, i.e. dealing with individuals, trying to sort out their issues and practically helping out. I don’t need to blow my own trumpet and I know well what it is like to be burnt out, as happens to many who try to help in this area. If you want an inkling of what my involvement is and has been, read “Outside the Camp”, which is my story as a community activist.
As I point out, we are in a marathon, not a sprint; we can’t solve every problem; we have to work with what is available, which is often not ideal, and we need to work together. As for the “client” (i.e. the homeless) and the “professionals” (e.g. the Council, Police and various non-statutory agencies who employ staff who are paid to help), it is never my intention to take sides. Whether it is the client engaging in anti-social behavior or failing to engage with the help that is available; the Police for being heavy handed or the Council for dodging their moral responsibilities or health services, especially mental health, for their absence, or the voluntary organizations not doing enough when it is in their power to do so, and not to forget joe public for a lack of compassion, I would take and have taken such to task. But my aim is to work with all these parties to find as good as we can solutions, and is why since 2008 I have been Chair of Southend Homeless Action Network (SHAN) that tries to do just that, and have done so, with some degree of success.
Going back to the shelter, it is one of many places in Southend where rough sleepers end up sleeping and, despite what people might think in order to absolve the consciences etc., the number of homeless people is significant but we don’t know how many; the people who end up on the streets may well be instrumental in determining their own fates, but often they are like many victims of circumstances that might befall on any of us; and while there are services out there (and Southend is particularly blessed in this regard) the real biggies i.e. suitable accommodation and support given some of the complex issues, e.g. alcohol, mental health and family breakdown, faced by the homeless (all who should be treated as individuals with specific needs) do not exist anywhere near as much as what is needed to meet the needs. While far from perfect, there is a lot of good work that goes on and pertinent to this is the multi-agency task and targeting group to which I belong that focuses on individuals and their needs, and has had a number of successes. But the gaps are there still and there is a place for all to help in some way or other, even if it is only giving to a homeless charity or showing human kindness when meeting a homeless person.
The Echo concluded its article with a question (as it often does): “what do you think”? I have resisted writing one of my “disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” missives for, rather than dealing in sound bites, I prefer to weigh the facts and the options. As I say, I do know something of the background, including past examples, such as the Police moving on rough sleepers around the town centre and when rough sleepers have been “moved on” from “Council” property, and like on this occasion (and I need to check the facts) it was as a result of a neighbour’s complaint. On that previous occasion, the rough sleepers who were moved on were decent types who behaved as far I could make out, impeccably, including investing in a dustpan and brush to clear up any mess made. But sadly, they were joined by another rough sleeper who showed none of these considerations and who upset users of that facility (it was a sheltered car park) and, while at the time I remonstrated with the Council, I saw their point. I did visit the shelter, identified in the Echo report, last night and this morning, in order to find out for myself what is going on, but no one was there. Without all the facts I am reticent to over pontificate.
The first thing to say is people with an “interest” need to be aware of the facts. Sadly, there is a good deal of ignorance when it comes to homeless issues, and this is inexcusable. Secondly, there is no easy solution and every homeless person and the situations in which they find themselves are different. Thirdly, if people are to be moved on, it should be because they are creating a nuisance, and not just to appease the nimby brigade. Fourthly, there may be nowhere (or at least nowhere better) to move people sleeping in the shelter onto (I say this having listened to the stories of many rough sleepers, right up to this present time). Fifthly, if the folk who use the shelter are doing no harm (and it is a public amenity whose main feature is it provides “shelter”) why do anything? Sixthly, and this is the biggie, there is more work to be done in order to find somewhere that is suitable for these folk to stay and provide them suitable support. Lastly, we can all do something to help these folk, so why don’t we?