The Southend Echo homeless-on-sea saga continues (my earlier responses are here, here and here) and today’s Echo reveals a new development headlined by “Protestors to pitch 100 tents on the beach”. Before I come back to this story, I want to pick up on the sub text titled: “Council: we’re doing all we can to help the homeless”.
The statement is supposed to come from Councillor David Norman, the councilor whose portfolio includes homeless issues and a man who I have a lot of respect for. But on this occasion I disagree even though the Council, especially the current administration, has done and is doing a lot. He may even think he is doing everything and in fairness he has engaged with those of us working at the coal face with rough sleepers, but as far as the Council as a whole goes that is not strictly true and I would invite him and colleagues to talk to us further on the matter. Besides begging the question how seriously are their intentions to help the homeless, it would be a missed opportunity if a council strapped for cash do not meaningfully engage with those who do help the homeless, do so for free, do need guidance, don’t feel they are being taken seriously by the statutory services and have earned and gained the trust of the rough sleepers.
Yesterday, I chaired a meeting of Southend Homeless Action Network (SHAN) and this was well attended by the group just mentioned as well as representatives of interested voluntary and statutory or funded from government coffers organizations. As always the agenda was action packed and the discussion lively, demonstrating the passion and commitment of those attending. Two items on the agenda were reports by two groups who are relative newcomers to the homeless scene: Warrior Soup Kitchen (see here for earlier thoughts) and Hope316, a supported housing project that is already housing several rough sleepers. All this is pertinent for, along with a number of other voluntary organisations, these hold the key in unlocking some of the help rough sleepers need.
Sadly, some key statutory figures were noticeable by their absence. While some did send their apologies because of prior engagements, others did not respond, and while they may have been otherwise engaged there is no excuse for bad manners. Two areas we are looking at because it is so important are mental health and dual diagnosis support and the possibility while other agencies, e.g. the NHS, have a part to play, there needs to and could be a way forward. It would be tempting to name and shame but for the time being I will keep my powder dry in the hope they will engage and we can work together to find solutions to difficult issues.
One of the frustrations expressed by those dealing with often difficult situations with rough sleepers is that not only do the people they help mistrust what they see as unhelpful officialdom and have lifestyle issues that make engaging with the services intended to help so much more difficult, but when they try to do so, often on an advocacy basis, they often encounter red tape and indifference. Some of it is due to the old chestnut of confidentiality but often the good will among the community that is on offer has not been recognized and the people losing out are the homeless, not least because a valuable resource remains barely tapped.
I would like to see the Council put their money where their mouth is, e.g. discussing what we can do to move on people sleeping on the beaches to a better place (including ideas discussed in an earlier post), and using pots of money that do exist to help fund the work that is being done. but more could be done if more resources e.g. money were provided. While I don’t have all the facts, I find it incredible and unacceptable, given the bridge building work I have been doing with the Council, that they were prepared to fund a new group doing a similar work to Street Pastors rather than support a very successful operation currently run on a shoe string!
Going back to main story, this involves a group, many I happen to know quite well, who between them do a lot of good work helping the homeless, and who are planning, in the light of the recent unhelpful comments made by our local MP and the animosity shown by some residents, that as a protest at the way rough sleepers are often treated that they will set up camp on the beach to highlight the needs of those who do the same but only because there is no better alternative. Unsurprisingly, the Council seem to disapprove.
Regarding support, I have yet to come to a full view given I want to work cooperatively and within the law, but I am always mindful that when it comes to peaceful protest we have history our our side (e.g. reference the work of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi and what they achieved). Always there is a need to act peacefully and having clear objectives, engaging with the authorities as appropriate and as best we can. I repeat my suggestion for the Council to come and talk to us and stop talking sanctimonious crap, claiming they are doing all they can for the homeless when clearly they aren’t.