Evicting homeless campers from Southend seafront

One of the amusing stories that came my way this week was along the lines of singing from the same hymn sheet and clearly the doing of which often does not happen, even though many will recognize that a lot more is achieved when this does happen. I came across the phrase around 15 years ago when I begun to get involved doing full time community work and it was a phrase one of my mentors used. She felt part of her role was to get people, often coming from different backgrounds and having different ideas, doing just that. All these years on, it seems to me that this is a pretty worthy objective and it is always satisfying when this is achieved. The amusing story was when the Queen opened an important Church of England synod gathering, one of the choir boys was caught following a football match on his smart phone (something I am sure many who read this can identify with), and the comment was to the effect that this was a case when singing from the same hymn sheet was not happening.

Part of my work among the homeless is to work with all sorts of groups to get homeless folk to a better place. But two stories have come my way to indicate that this is not always so. The first one relates to the giving out of sleeping bags to rough sleepers, something that we (who do this) do on a regular basis. The problem comes is when these are discarded along with other rubbish, leaving others to pick up the mess, something some who “we” work with have pointed out to their consternation. I must confess this one is still not cracked and one is caught sometimes between the devil and the deep blue sea. In the past week, during the cold spell, one person was found outside that would likely have frozen to death if he hadn’t been found, making me realize that giving out sleeping bags is a humanitarian response to help prevent such tragedies. Another confounding factor is, when some rough sleepers are moved on, some of their stuff including sleeping bags is taken away by the authorities – clearly we are not singing from the same hymn sheet.

The second story relates to the ongoing saga of rough sleepers camping in the Southend cliff’s area and goes under the Southend Echo headline: “Council takes legal action to evict six homeless campers from Southend seafront. When the story broke a few months back, I did blog about it, and I understand the Council (who are doing the moving on, given it is their land) have tried to engage with the campers. Much of the report quotes Ron Woodley, the leader of the Council serving the eviction notices, saying everything had been done in terms of offering help and the campers still remain put, and their doing so does create problems that can not be ignored. I try not to take sides in this matter, realising there may well be two sides, and as I often try to explain to people, I am neither pro-establishment nor anti-establishment. One of the offers of help is the possibility of staying in one of the church winter night shelters for the next four months, one of which I happen to manage, but it should be added we do / can not take every one. My reticence is: if I were to speak to the six remaining campers, like I have done in the past, what had been offered may not be appropriate from their perspective. By being moved on they vacate one set of circumstances that is far from ideal to another set that may be even worse. This is compounded when those in question have issues around substance misuse and mental health, both making it nigh impossible to engage with the church scheme and also aggravating the neighbours.

Sometimes, working as I do with the homeless is a matter of walking a tight rope between doing actions, none of which are entirely satisfactory, but where choices need to be made, and also trying to keep fresh and keen instead of jaded and cynical. The issue is not one of taking sides but doing what one can to bring vulnerable people, often with complex and not easily met needs, to a better place and singing, as far as it is practicable, from the same hymn sheet as others who are trying to achieve something similar.

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