I was contacted yesterday, out of the blue, by someone planning to do a radio program about Southend, who asked if I could help. In the email he sent following the conversation, he wrote: “As discussed, I work for Radio 5 Live and we’re visiting Southend this week to talk about various social and economic issues in coastal communities. We’d particularly like to talk about homelessness in Southend. We’ll be in Southend on Thursday afternoon and we’re interested in speaking to someone who works with rough sleepers as well as some of the rough sleepers themselves. The recorded piece would then be broadcast the following morning”.
I must confess, while I am not normally lost for words, I wasn’t entirely sure what to say, knowing the homeless situation in the town is complex and sadly given the number of rough sleepers far from resolved, many agencies are involved in helping the homeless, offering different services, sometimes complementing each other nicely and sometimes not, and the rough sleeper perspective is important, possibly the most important one of all. Moreover, while there are often many common elements there are also significant differences – some make more of an effort to sort out their situation than others, some maybe most have lifestyle issues that are a confounding factor in the whole business, some maybe most don’t tell the whole story, some engage with the services out there to help and some don’t and for a whole host of reasons (including inadequate service and a system that is broke), yet all have needs, especially accommodation wise, and all need to be treated with respect and dignity. I felt we had a useful conversation, yet I was left wondering what the outcome might be, realizing it is not my show and therefore other than engaging as I did I must leave it to others.
After I received the email, I share it with permission on my own Facebook page and those of some of the agencies I thought might be able to contribute. I believe it created some interest and I daresay something (hopefully positive) will come out of it. On Saturday I was helping with street Spirit (soup kitchen) and on Sunday with St. Andrews Open House. On both occasions I was able to engage with a good number of rough sleepers with unmet needs, who we showed small acts of kindness. As I drove through the town earlier today, I spotted four rough sleepers, separately, all I know fairly well and between them have many needs. Not that I needed much reminding of the issues, but my heart still went out to them. When I think of the effort so many of the good people of Southend make to befriend and assist our rough sleeper friends, a lot of it unheralded, I thought it was all worthwhile and yet mindful we are far from cracking the main issues and that some good publicity might at least help.
One of my main contributions to helping rough sleepers is knowledge and empathy, following several years of trying to engage at all sorts of levels and in all sorts of areas. Along with this is a desire to bring together disparate groups and be balanced not taking sides, although given the seriousness of the issues being faced we cannot be dispassionate. God will be my judge at the end of the day how well I did and whether it was at too high a cost given other things I should be attending to. But that aside, I am posting this merely to make my position clear, something I feel I have had to do a lot of in recent days and sometimes at the cost of simply getting on with doing what needs to be done. I was born and bred in Southend and it is a town I love, know well and want to see prosper. When I read in yesterday’s local paper an upbeat report as to how well the seaside economy is doing I was delighted. Equally, we do have people rough sleeping in the cliffs and beach area, as well as other undesirable places. Finding solutions should be all our concern.
Much has been said, written and done concerning the situation we are faced with. Some I agree with and some I don’t. I have said what I have said and people can follow the “my blog trail” to find out what exactly that constitutes. That we have rough sleepers, some whose situations border on destitution, is rightly a matter of grave concern, and my hope is the good guys who are doing something worthwhile to help will win in the end and, importantly, the homeless folk they serve. With such an end in mind, I will happily lend my efforts.