Yesterday, a friend posted on his Facebook page the following questions: “Can anyone tell me how many street homeless have been given a home over the past year in Southend, and who keeps statistics in this area?” What followed was an interesting discussion on several aspects of homelessness although no definitive answers. While I pontificate on all sorts of subjects, including homelessness, when it comes to helping the homeless, my focus is on doing what is in my powers to do and work with those with an interest in homelessness and the homeless themselves to find good solutions.
As for answering the questions, the answer is I don’t know and I don’t know any who do. I have no doubt statistics are kept by official bodies and their partners, but as with all statistic research, the results are usually to do with the questions asked and as for the above “how many” question I’m not sure if that question has been responded to in the way the person who asked the question wanted. I suspect behind the asking of the question is the concern that people become homeless and are not accommodated as quickly as one might hope and expect. But as a starter for any who wish to pursue this line, I would suggest approaching the Council, especially the group that deal with complex needs and anti-social behavior, and the main homeless charity in the town, HARP (I can suggest names if any wish to approach me confidentially). I believe national organizations e.g. Shelter can provide useful information also.
For me, the important questions are:
- Why do people become homeless in the first place?
- How might this be reduced?
- How should society respond to the homeless in their midst?
- How to address the lack of suitable accommodation?
- What support needs prevent the homeless from being homed?
- What can I do?
Regarding questions 1-5, the best I can do is use my knowledge and enthusiasm to raise these matters in the hope I might help to effect some beneficial change. Because I know that is a long term prospect and change can be frustratingly slow, I concentrate on question 6 and if you care to trawl through my blog posts you can find out more. The harsh truth is there are many homeless people in Southend (I would guess 100) as well as a bigger number in danger of becoming homeless or living in appalling conditions. Given the obvious difference in circumstances etc. the responses to how to improve the situation that homeless and nearly homeless folk face and how agencies one might expect to help will vary. It is an emotive subject, and as I reflect on a continual string of homeless people dying “before their time” a tragic one too. Emotion is needed but compassion and intelligent responses are needed even more.
I invite folk reading this to consider their own response. One place to start is check out the helps that are available, and there are several (e.g. via contacts in the Southend rough sleeper leaflet) and maybe volunteer your services. We are where we are and we do what we do, knowing that the needs of the homeless will continue, but there is always something we can do, notwithstanding limitations etc. Giving the homeless person you see in the streets a semblance of human warmth and kindness maybe is a good place to begin.