Charity Sector in a Mess

BY JAMIE FOSTER

Celebrity lawyer “Mr Loophole’ Nick Freeman was attending his old public school reunion dinner when last week’s bad weather prevented him from travelling. This left him with two booked and paid for rooms at a four star hotel in London. Rather than letting them go to waste he asked his daughter to offer the rooms to a homeless charity.

His daughter contacted Glassdoor in Chelsea, a charity that specialises in finding shelter for rough sleepers with local churches. She offered the rooms to the charity but they turned them down on the basis that they couldn’t indulge in favouritism. Temperatures plunged that night to minus 4 degrees.

This seemed like a wasted opportunity on behalf of the charity. When contacted by the Daily Mail the charity explained that they specialised in finding accommodation through contacts with local church halls. This accommodation was vetted and appropriate for rough sleepers. The charity said it did not know what would happen if they sent rough sleepers to the hotel. They may not have the right documentation in order to be allowed to stay the night. The hotel may not wish to have its facilities used in this way. The simplest way to find out if that were the case would be for the charity to phone the hotel and check what requirements the hotel would have. For whatever reason the charity decided not to make the phone call but rather to refuse the offer of the rooms out of hand.

This is an exasperating story on so many levels. A charity’s strict policies and procedures have robbed two rough sleepers of a night out of the cold and in luxury. What would appear to be a simple unwillingness to go the extra mile prevented this generous gift from reaching its recipients. Was there an element of inverted snobbery at play? Did the charity not wish to be associated with the trappings of wealth that the hotel represented?

The story comes at a time when trust is being lost with the charity sector. Stories of sexual impropriety by charity workers have undermined public confidence in the work of charities. Charities’ policies and procedures are tying charities in knots. So many seem to have lost their raison d’être.

Rough sleeping is a blight on British streets. It is a tragedy in modern Britain that it takes place at all. Common sense suggests there should be a simple answer to finding accommodation for rough sleepers. Sadly this is not the case. When the snow starts to fall and temperatures plummet it is a natural reaction to wish to move heaven and earth to help those caught outside at the mercy of the elements. The idea that a simple and elegant solution, albeit for only two people, should be lost due to a charity’s inflexibility is hard to bear.

Have we reached a point where we need to look carefully at our charity sector from Oxfam down to see if it is fit for purpose?

The suspicion is that some charities have become employment opportunities for middle class charity workers rather than forwarding the charitable purposes they have been set up to achieve. For some charities political posturing appears to have taken the place of good works. It is impossible to make it down a typical high street now without being stopped by someone raising money for charity. This makes this story particularly galling when a simple offer to donate is turned down.

It may be, in the end, that the hotel would not have wanted to accommodate rough sleepers for the night. It is not inconceivable that a four star hotel might not wish to have its clientele faced with the homeless in its own lobby. The problem is we will never know because a charity decided not to use its good offices to find out. We might wonder how many times this same opportunity goes begging. How many hotel rooms are left empty that could be donated to rough sleepers if a homeless charity found a way to make it happen? It would take a bit of gumption to find out if it were possible. It would require a bit of get up an go on the part of the charity in question. It would not be as easy as simply repeating what the charity found comfortable, but it might help with the very problem the charity was set up to tackle.

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