Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Helping the homeless

A bit off topic tonight, but Ed Staite has a good piece up on homelessness, an issue which I spent a good deal of time working on when I was a lowly Parliamentary Researcher (oh what heady times). Coming off the back of a recent article in The Evening Standard he makes the bold move of flying in the face of the accepted wisdom that providing meals and support to long homeless people is a good thing:
I don't doubt the intentions of these charities - indeed they have probably kept some poor souls alive - but isn't it time there was acknowledgement that long term these methods may be flawed; there could be a better way to spend the money that will get people off our streets for good.
Many of the charities work exceptionally hard, but ultimately they're dealing with a symptom. Of course this is not by any stretch of the imagination a criticism, their role is to deal with the symptoms, but there needs to be someone dealing with the causes.
I know Boris Johnson has invested substantial amounts in schemes to prevent the homeless spending more than one night on the street. It's a long-term approach to solving the problem. To me it's the right approach, but I wonder what the liberal left volunteering in the soup kitchens will think?
For the record Ed (and I say this with a smile) some of us right wingers occasionally volunteer too, although I havent for quite some time.

Back on topic, the problem is that no one has come up with a way of curing the problem, and its deeply intractable. The reasons people become homeless are deeply chaotic, and causes can start to pile up years before the actual thing which drives someone wholly onto the street. Given that, creating homelessness policy which goes to the causes is very difficult, although solid and effective programs dealing with drug and alcohol addiction in particular can help.

What does help, and Ed correctly points it out, are policies which deal with people the moment they hit the street. If you can scoop them up early, identify the problems they are having, and get them into a position where help is avaliable to them, you can make a start. Not all of them will take it, but eventually they will, and then you can begin the process of bringing people back into society.

He also hints at a problem which I think is very unfortunate, the media often get involved in a homelessness story only if it comes from a homelessness charity, its rare to see in depth articles on good intiatives being run by Government (at any level). This means that when you do see an article about homelessness, its someone's PR, and PR amounts to advertising. Scan down to find who the person quoted is and you'll be seeing who it was that wrote the press release.

Its an unfortunate situation, but speaks to the fact that we, as a society, find it easier to talk about homelessness than we do in dealing with it.

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