Southend – dumping ground for the homeless

Two days ago I posted the latest in a long line of homeless related postings: “Killing (the homeless) with kindness”. I am reluctant to do overkill and too grumpy to want to repeat but I feel I should respond to some of the issues raised in the Echo’s latest in a long line of homeless reports: “Councillors fear Southend has become a dumping ground for the homeless”, following on from its story about the Council evicting rough sleepers from its central bus station, despite feeling I am merely saying what I said before.

It is interesting to note (if the Echo is to be believed) the claim of Councillor Terry, whose portfolio includes moving on rough sleepers from the town’s main bus shelter, a policy they are now resolutely pursuing, notwithstanding the costs to the community, supported by Councillor Moyies, that Southend’s rough sleeper population is on the increase due to London Boroughs “dumping” their homeless onto Southend (although I would be intrigued to know how they manage to do this and where is the evidence claimed, especially in the light of HARP saying there is scant evidence to support that view). Sort of relevant to this discussion is that Southend may well be a magnet attracting some out of town rough sleepers because of the help they find, and that is credit to the generosity of the people living in Southend. The answer is not to reduce the help we give but rather to set an example so others can go and do likewise.

While not unsympathetic with the Council concern over other Councils washing their hands of their homeless problem, by giving it to Southend, and (although not reported here) giving priority to those who can demonstrate a local connection, I have to say in own practice where the homeless person comes from has scant relevance. What is relevant is they are human, homeless, needy and are here, and if I am in a position to help, then I should do so, noting the caveats of my earlier blogs. Some of Councillor Terry’s statements I found disturbing: “You’ve got to break the cycle of substance abuse and alcoholism in order to rejoin society…” is stating the obvious and is void of offering solutions. “… There is the other side where there is a cohort of people to whom offering this kind of help is counterproductiveOffering food and sustenance on the street is almost supporting that lifestyle. I’m not saying they should stop but their needs to be more co-ordination between people providing meals and the council. They need to talk to a lot more to the council rather than just handing people food and sustenance in order to be part of the process of trying to get people off the streets” seems to ignore the fact that some of us are already doing what he suggests with varying success, and while none of us want to support a destructive lifestyle neither can we turn our backs on our own flesh when they are destitute and desperate and when what is needed is a good dose of human kindness. Moreover, the indifferent and sanctimonious air that I have observed in some elements of the Council, based on ignorance and prejudice, who then go on to say they are doing all they can, amounts to an economy with the truth, for many of us are finding those who have fallen through the gaps.

Some of the language, employed by the Echo in its reporting, borders on inflammatory, e.g. its earlier use of the word “vagrant”. Statements like “with so much help and support dedicated volunteer it is hard to understand why there continues to be growing numbers of rough sleepers in the town” and “the huge amount of help available in the town might actually be helping to fuel the problem, with food and clothing readily available to a hard core of rough sleepers who refuse help” begs many questions. Even though there is a lot of help, the main help that is needed is too often not available, such as suitable accommodation and support to sustain tenancies. As for “refusing help”, my earlier challenge of identifying what help has been offered and what are and why the responses of those being offered the help, I see little evidence.

The likes of HARP do a splendid job helping the homeless but they are limited and the same is true of the host of other agencies, often quite different in aims and ethos. We need to recognise a lot of rough sleepers fail to fully engage for good reasons and the tragedy is they are homeless and often void of hope, “the cycle of substance abuse and alcoholism” being one result and a failure to deal with the mental health issues is another. In fairness to the Echo, its report raises many important points and I hope these will be fed into the mix, not so much to spark off a philosophical debate but rather that magnetic Southend will become a beacon of best practice.

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