BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
For a myriad of reasons, the miserable issue of Homelessness means a great deal to me. I have spent many hours facing up to this problem in town and countryside. Let’s cut to the chase: Homelessness is not a problem which Rich Britain should ever have to face.
I have volunteered in a homeless shelter in the prosperous South East, and in other shelters and hostels in Britain, where all kinds of homeless men and women came to seek refuge, to get help, to enjoy a chat in the warm and down a piping hot mug of soup or tea. I know how homelessness shortens the horizon – how homeless people think meal to meal, night to night. I know about the stigma, the hardship and the exhaustion.
And, yes, I have slept out at night. I have seen the issue for myself at the cold, cutting edge. I have known homeless people who committed suicide. I knew one young man who set fire to himself because a badly-managed homeless charity – more concerned with Jesus than its clients – failed to pass on the news to him that he had been given a council flat, which he then heard he had lost on account of an acceptance deadline passing. I have met vulnerable homeless victims in the Midlands who got picked up and converted – all in the same day – by extremist Salafists who then made their lives hell.
In Britain, there are apparently right now a quarter of a million unseen homeless people – the sofa surfers, those staying with friends and others not on any agency radars. In 2014-15, there were 54,430 homeless households in Britain yet current Government statistics extraordinarily claim that in England, an average of only 498 people sleep rough each night, with 248 of those in London.
The real number of rough sleepers nationwide is far higher than a few hundred. In the Blair days, government homeless counters only counted those not standing – I really hope that the counters today have refined these appalling and cynical counting methods.
The problem of Homelessness really frustrates me. Why?
I am going to upset a lot of well-intentioned people when I say this but someone must.
The problem frustrates me because too many of the wrong people are trying to help solve the problem. In my years of experience as a volunteer, I know this problem is wholly solvable. Just that Homelessness drags in too many of the wrong problem-solvers. There are simply too many do-gooders and obstructionists getting in the way and failing to deliver successful solutions. Many of these do-gooders would cease to have a raison d’etre if the problem of Homelessness was actually solved.
Don’t believe me?
Then just look at the stats.
The Government says it is spending £500 million on homelessness. That’s £10,000 per homeless household. There are manifold homeless charities and none better known than Shelter. In 2014, Shelter’s total income was £57.5m, up from £53.5m in the previous year. In the same year, Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, was paid £128,000. The charity’s divisional directors were all paid £84,660 a year. If you add up all the donations to all the UK’s homeless charities, including Crisis, Centrepoint, St Mungo’s, the Big Issue and others, then over £1 Billion is being thrown at the problem each year. That’s £20,000+ per homeless household.
Bottom Line: that’s a shocking and inexcusable waste of money for the problem to continue in the ways that it does. What’s going wrong with this huge allocation of funds?
Where I volunteered in the shelter in the South East there was a strict policy of no judgment. So, a drug-user would be treated with the same cup of tea and a chat as a man kicked out of his home by a furious wife for child molestation. The budget was relatively small per client, so limited service could be given.
There were success stories – I recall seeing a man, who’d found work as a Sainsbury’s check-out man, hugging the charity boss years after he’d used the service and he was in streams of tears, talking about how now he had a home, a family and a life thanks to this charity’s efforts. But for most users? I saw the habitual users of the charity rolling in each day for a slice of toast and heading back out into the cold. I met many immigrants. I met many mentally ill users. I met several rough sleepers who wanted to rough sleep and hated the idea of a room or a flat. Former prisoners. Drunks. All these clients were essentially failed by the charity long term.
Shelter produces lots of great reports about Homelessness and employs lots of people who know lots about the subject. But at the cutting edge they have repeatedly failed to bring down numbers and simply chip away at the Government, as if it’s the Government’s fault. Just think what they could do with £57 million if they started over with an intention just to target the problem.
I know Homelessness is complex.
But we must judge homeless people. That is the first step to defeating Homelessness.
Only by listing and working out whether a homeless person is a drug addict, suffering from mental health issues, has some awful family situation that it may be possible to repair, or wants to be homeless, can effective, real-world solutions be put in place for them. (Most of the clients of the homeless shelter in the South East I worked with were fed up to the back teeth of talking to do-gooder counsellors. They just needed a leg up.)
We need to get tough to eradicate the problem. We should therefore enforce the illegality of homelessness and deal with those who are homeless – not with a do-gooder, soft touch that exacerbates the problems, but with pragmatic solutions that deliver results rather than affording charity directors six figure salaries.
And £1 Billion a year would be more than enough to wipe out the problem within less than a decade.
Tomorrow, I’ll explain how.
Eradicating UK Homelessness Part 2 can be found here