Note: I have updated something posted a month ago because it seems to me there is a general issue that we cannot ignore when it comes to the matter of dealing with Southend’s homeless population – ed 29/06/2007
A few days late admittedly, but I have just come across yet another report of something that has recently come to the attention of our local newspapers concerning rough sleepers congregating and sleeping in some new area in my town (although I believe this one has been long used, maybe by not so many), as so often happens.
“ROUGH sleepers have set up camp in an underground loading bay. Five tents have been spotted in the area under the Victoria Shopping Centre, in Southend town centre. It comes just weeks after Southend Council served an eviction notice on rough sleepers living in tents on the picturesque hills off Cliff Gardens – a conservation area between Southend and Westcliff seafront. John Staples, from Leigh, who spotted the tents in the Victoria Centre deeping, said: “It is a mess down there. I saw them on Saturday. I drove down to turn and come out as I was working nearby. I couldn’t believe it when I saw all the tents – there must have been about five and piles of rubbish too. I think they came from the Cliffs because they are the same igloo looking type of tents. It used to be a road down there, where all the buses went through, but its not fully closed off now and there are still steps to access it. They are next to the entrance of the loading bay. It must be a fire risk, they are all sitting round and sleeping there, I think they use those mini stoves too.” He called on Southend Council to find a permanent solution for the rough sleepers. Mr Staples added: “It is very sad but the trouble is that it isn’t about just moving them on all the time, it is about sorting the whole problem out.””
For those of us who follow such things it is déjà vu. Mr. Staples is spot on in his wanting to find a permanent solution and identifying there is a whole problem to be sorted out, but what and how? While calling on the Council to do something is easy to do, those of us who deal with the Council on such matters know it is easier said than done and in fairness to the Council they do a lot given their limited resources. The same can be said for larger front line charities trying to help the homeless e.g. HARP, STARS and Family Mosaic. But the bottom line is it ain’t that easy to stop rough sleeping given the complexity of unmet needs and a lack of affordable accommodation and appropriate support services. But creative solutions are needed, along with resolve and determination as well as government support to to provide necessary resources and housing. Responses like “we are doing all we can” are unacceptable and saying “we offer something but they don’t accept it” is a distortion of the truth. Given we have over fifty people sleeping rough in Southend’s streets every night, some who I know find practical solutions to their dilemma and cause little trouble, stories like this come as no surprise.
No doubt the rough sleepers will be moved on shortly (they generally are), often depending on whether they are deemed to be a ‘problem’, only to find some new place, and so the situation repeats itself. It is impossible to categorize all such people for each have their own unique needs, but for the vast majority they want a solution to their dilemma. Meanwhile, charities like my own will continue to pick up pieces, while the problems remain unresolved. While it is tempting to pontificate on the whys and wherefores, and long term solutions are needed, the focus for those of us working at the coal face has to be on showing practical, human kindness, in a realistic and efficient way, realising our own limitations.