A lot is happening in Southend regarding helping the homeless. The following is based on what I sent (14/06/20) to some of the key people involved in offering help during this “lockdown” period and involved in forging a way ahead as we come out of lockdown.
I have read many e-exchanges and communciations during these past few weeks and in a number of cases have responded, including participating in and facilitating meetings (what would we do without Zoom) and have lent my efforts to getting good outcomes. I am mindful of different perspectives and like all of us have a view as to what is best. I see myself these days as an honest broker, and while armchair activist isn’t quite where I am, due to age, health constraints etc. you won’t see too much of me on the front line.
As a neutral, I try to respect the position of SBC (Southend Borough Council), the VCS (Voluntary and Community Sector) and, importantly, not to forget the people we are trying to help – the homeless and vulnerable. My role in SHAN (our next meeting on 23rd June will be important) and Street Spirit (one of the “soup kitchens”) relate, and also my particular interest, which is to help provide pastoral support to homeless folk. So what I would like to do now is to set out my store and state how I see the present position:
- The work SBC have done in recent weeks getting people off the streets has been magnificent and credit goes to all those involved.
- The work the VCS have done to help during this extraordinary time and do what the VCS has always done – fill the gaps that are often many and large, has been equally magnificent.
- Southend is better than many places in the country when it comes to helping the homeless – a Council that does respond, a strong VCS (significantly strengthened since I began my homeless activism over ten years ago), a more than average size homeless population that are catered for in ways they aren’t in many other towns, good networking, e.g. SHAN, that enables joined up working and often works in practice.
- Southend can do better. This is evident and from last weeks exchanges alone, where I have detected frustration by all sides and the historic concerns around partnership working, transparency, information sharing, better communication etc. remain, even though there have been notable improvements and many more involved in serving the homeless, compared to when I began my homeless activism.
- With lockdown easing and the B&B provision having to end soon, the question of whether it is business as usual i.e. back on the streets or placing those who have been helped into suitable accommodation remains, especially given that past experience has shown there is a shortage of suitable accommodation, and not to ignore a significant number who are right now street homeless.
- The perspective of users needs to be taken into account as to why they won’t accept offers of help that seem reasonable, as well as the realization that, as far as offering help goes, sometimes the limits of what can be offered needs to be recognized.
- NRPF and disqualification from receiving benefits will be an issue for some we want to help.
- The support needs e.g. mental health, addiction is as significant as finding accommodation.
- The role of VCS in the “new normal” needs to be defined and that resource can and should be better tapped. After all, SBC may well be constrained, due to resources etc., by what they have to do by law, and this often leaves all sorts of gaps. It is not unreasonable to establish what the true position is so help is given where needed and not as a result of well meaning do gooding.
- We are all human. Agendas, priorities, perspectives and personalities (and egos, sad to say) do play a part. It has ever been thus. The challenge for all of us is deciding what a better place is for the people we are trying to, and are in need of, help and our putting all else aside to make achieving that our main priority.