A couple of weeks back I posted my first “We’re doing all we can” blog posting, not expecting to post a sequel. But things move on, develop, often faster than we realize, even though some of the big goals like in this case getting the homeless off the streets are not being met fast enough. I wrote in the context of a sleep out taking place on Southend beach, over the weekend just gone, in protest (if the Echo is to be believed) at the plight of Southend’s homeless population, some of who have to sleep out as there is no better alternative, despite claims to the contrary. This was an awareness event as far as the organizers were concerned and it largely achieved its aims. I would concur, having visited for a short while, although I would counsel those involved to take on board any feedback.
I made mention that there needs to be more engagement with the Council. While I believe there is a lot of work still to do, there have been positives. For example, along with a colleague, we talked to the councilor responsible for homeless issues at the Council and we had a full and frank exchange of views. We are also talking to the Councillor responsible for mental health and dual diagnosis, where there is a considerable lack in services. Also wheels are in now motion regarding more recognition of what Street Pastors can do and how better to work together. When surveying the agencies working for the homeless, the picture is intricate. The good news is that there is a lot going on that is positive. The bad news is there are a heck of a lot of folk that are still street homeless. There have also been set backs e.g. the controversy around HARP charging for some of its services, one agency responsible for houses where rough sleepers stay losing the plot given the safeguarding and lack of supervision issues that have arisen and in-fighting, now in the public domain, between agencies who are doing similar things.
But always there is hope and encouragement. Some rough sleepers have been housed recently and it should be noted that no one agency can take full credit – from where I stand many have played a part. One of the new kids on the block “Hope 316”, who run supported houses for those who are homeless are doing a superb job and providing what is often missing – appropriate support (and still need lots of help). I am continually amazed at those who give their time, effort, money etc. to help the homeless without expectation of reward. Last week I had breakfast at a town centre establishment that doesn’t want to be named but gives to the homeless, with a well known individual that helps many rough sleepers at significant personal cost. At the weekend I visited St. Andrews church, Westcliff for a farewell party because its vicar is retiring. Some of what the church does for the homeless and other vulnerable folk, under his leadership, and often unheralded, is astounding. It was lovely to receive gifts and promises of sleeping bags in the past week, given the need among rough sleepers. It was nice to read of what one pioneer lady is up to, who has taken a break from front line homeless related activities, for the time being. The list goes on.
But this is not the time to rest on our laurels. There is no simple solution to the problem of homelessness and I have no doubt it will be with us long after I am dead and gone. But there is work to be done and there is room for all given the gaps are big and many. It seems to me that those who do help have between them a wide range of perspectives, and gifts and contributions to offer, and that allowances need to be made. This is not the time for ego trips or empire building, given the huge need. Neither is it the time to get embroiled with what other people / groups do (or not). We should have enough on our own plates already. What should concern us though is that we, I mean the royal we – that is the residents of Southend-on-Sea and its service providers, are not doing all we can!
Addendum 06/08/15: The long threatened action of the Council to move on those sleeping in tents in the area of the cliffs and the beach of Southend has begun as reported on Facebook and today’s Echo. Two days back, notice has been served, ordering the tent dwellers to vacate Council land and threatening legal action if this is not complied with. The legalities and practicalities of this have been taken up by groups supporting the tent dwellers and it is a matter of watch this space to find out what happens next. I intend to do what I have been doing and not interfere more than I need to. One statement in the notice I find disturbing in the light of what I have been saying / advocating is “I understand that my colleagues and other agencies have offered you support to relocate and thus far you have chosen not to take up that offer“. Without speaking to all the parties involved I am not able to reach a definitive view.
While I have some knowledge given the privileged position I hold, it is at best piecemeal. What I would like to know is what has been offered to who (both from those doing the and offering and those who are being made offers perspective) as well as creatively exploring possible solutions. My current understanding is that despite services engaging with those sleeping on the cliffs that, while there have been successes not widely realised, much of what has been offered is inadequate, and accommodation wise is worse than what is being experienced (all will agree that sleeping on the cliffs is not a good solution). It therefore brings me back to the thrust of these two posts – we are NOT doing all we can. I have to distance myself from comments by those in authority who are saying we are. There is more to be done; a practical solution is needed NOW.
I conclude with some text I included along with this updated post, when I posted the link on my Facebook page and that of Street Spirit: “In the light of some Facebook postings and today’s Echo report, I’m sharing something I shared a couple of days back but with an additional two paras in the light of the recent news about the Council trying to evict rough sleepers sleeping in tents on the cliffs. I would emphasize that these are my own thoughts and don’t necessarily represent those of organizations I am directly involved with that have not come to a collective view other than continuing to support all rough sleepers and working with all agencies (where we can) to arrive at satisfactory solutions to difficult situations.”