In adversity. The callous ignorance of homelessness

Today, everything stops as we reflect on the heinous atrocity in Manchester and anyone with a shred of humanity focuses upon the magnificent response of the ordinary people of Manchester.

Being a Liverpudlian it is genuinely not easy to laud Mancunians yet they did as Northerners do and what all Northerners do in adversity they came out to help and support others as it was the right thing to do.  No second thoughts on that. No issue of race, colour or creed,  just basic humanity of all the community.

It reminded me once again of the magnificent response of the ordinary folk in Sheffield at Hillsborough all those years ago who came out on their doorsteps asking if you wanted to use their phone to phone home and put a brandy or whisky in your hand without asking if you wanted one – wonderful humanity and the right and natural thing to do.

Yet as the day has gone on I’ve gotten angry and not from the atrocity or from the usual idiots decrying anyone who is not white, but from the ignorance of people when it comes to homelessness and those who find themselves homeless.  Social media has been rightly praising the homeless man who went to help and with so many calls that this man deserves a home.

What they are really saying is this homeless man has proved he is worthy NOW with the inference that before this he was NOT deserving of a roof over his head and somehow deserved not to have a roof over his head!  That really angers me and especially so when that is said or retweeted by people who work in (mainstream) housing and who really should be ashamed of themselves and their attitudes toward homeless people.

It is bad enough that the general public only genuinely care about those who are homeless (in all forms) for a few weeks before Christmas … and then for the rest of the year read posters on the escalator in Liverpool as I did today that castigate those who are homeless.  Don’t give money to those pretend homeless begging on the street they say,; there is no need and a bed for them all with the council’s wonderful No Second Night Out (NSNO) programme.

That really angers as it is 100% bullshit.  NSNO is a box ticking exercise that does not work and since its introduction in Liverpool the official rough sleeper count (itself a farcical delusion) has seen the count increase by over 80% in the last two years alone!  But hey tell a lie often enough and people believe it works!

What it also leads to is a perception that any homeless person on the street must be unworthy and must be deserving of being without a roof over them – they are all beggars after all and there is always a bed for them is more than bollocks, resulting it shock and horror when a homeless person has humanity and does the right thing as the gentleman did last night.

Gentleman? Even to me who has worked in homelessness for years found describing this wonderful homeless an as a ‘gentleman’ weird to write!  That is just so wrong isn’t it? The fact that many studies have shown over the past twenty years that a high percentage of street homeless men are ex-forces and many more stating that as any as two-thirds have mental health problems, the ‘homeless’ are pilloried as not deserving, common beggars, riddled with addiction problems and all round ne’er do wells … and the public and public authorities are more than happy to advance such arguments

Many councils including my own in Liverpool use their PR machine in full flow saying how wonderful they are, how wonderful that they spend £12 million on homelessness (and then in tiny print adding ‘and other services’) and how wonderful they are to fund the wonderful NSNO programme … Yes the one that doesn’t work and never has anywhere in the UK.  It is a tick box failure that provides every council with the excuse that they are doing something and nothing more.

The £12 million Liverpool claims its spends on homelessness and other services sounds a lot too doesn’t it yet that is all they NOW spend when once and they still do they got £32 million in Supporting People to fund back in 2003. It means Liverpool has siphoned off £20 million to spend on other services and to offset social care deficits which if they didn’t the social care crisis we read about today would have emerged a lot sooner – and almost every other local council in England and Scotland did this too.

What that cash grab on support did is remove the vital preventative role that support plays in reducing the need for care services and I and many others said at the time the incredibly stupid John Prescott removed the ring fence off Supporting People in 2009, there was an inevitable social care crisis only being deferred.  All local councils took money away from homelessness and other ‘non-deserving’ services by having the ring fence removed … and it was easy to do with ‘the homeless’ as they are non deserving people who are all professional beggars and have somewhere to sleep blah, blah,  blah, that everyone wants to believe!

Yet in extreme adversity a bit like a Dustin Hoffman film whose title I’ve forgotten a street homeless man goes and spoils that prevailing view and shows dignity and humanity and shocks people by doing so.  Of course very soon no one will remember this poor homeless gentleman and everyone will forget that many homeless men and women are ex-forces who have fought to keep us all safe and now have significant mental health problems ( you know that would be mental health which according to the last government is not a real disability!) … and ‘the homeless will once again go back to being locked up by councils due to 18th Century vagrancy acts as they are increasingly doing and seen as non-deserving.

My Mother used to say ‘… there’s always someone worse off than you’- a typical Northern saying and with much validity … except in the case of street homeless persons.

Rant over!

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10 thoughts on “In adversity. The callous ignorance of homelessness

  1. Couldn’t agree more. I posted on fb about this earlier. For the last year he’s been treated with contempt. Today he’s a hero. He’s the same man he was yesterday! Well said Joe.

  2. Joe, I completely agree with your point about the relative worthiness of the homeless man who was simply seen doing something humane. Incidentally you may have since heard that David Gold co-owner of West Ham United is trying to track the man down to offer him six months’ free accommodation and “a bit of cash”. But let’s not get into the problems with that.

    I however take issue with your assertion that NSNO doesn’t work. It does work. I volunteer with a partner homelessness service in London and can tell you from first-hand experience that the service has a significant impact on preventing long-term rough sleeping.

    The stats back it up: Since 1st April 2016, 85% of all new rough sleepers accessing NSNO did not spend a second night on the streets. 607 people were successfully helped to exit rough sleeping. Maybe the service doesn’t function as well in Liverpool – for example as it’s a much newer service there it may not be as embedded with local groups. But NSNO is not contributing to the fact that rough sleeping is increasing as you seem to imply. There are much wider local and national issues about which you know so much.

    I appreciate this is an emotional subject and indeed it’s a particularly emotional post and perhaps that is why you’ve neglected to back up your claims with any facts – it’s pure opinion and really rather misplaced.

    1. The stats do not back up the failure that is NSNO. Rough sleeper counts (which are a farcical under count) show rough sleeper numbers have increased in every area in which t operates.

      My take on NSNO comes from working in all forms of homeless services since 1993 as a worker, manager, area manager and as a consultant advising homeless services for the last 16 years. My opinions on the merits or not of NSNO are not emotive at all; the programme simply does not work as a solution to rough sleeping and street homelessness.

      I fully agree there are many variables at play not just NSNO in this but that still means NSNO has to adapt to reflect all circumstances and all new contexts which it does not. As the only key aim of NSNO is to reduce rough sleeping it is a chronic failure not just a failure and it is a regressive theoretical piece of nonsense that is superficial beyond belief.

      Any objective analysis of NSNO whether in place a few years or many reveals it does NOT reduce rough sleeping. It merely allows LAs to say look we are doing something and NSNO services to say dont we tick a lot of boxes to collude with LAs in order to get funding.

      1. I don’t doubt your experience in this area and in fact referenced this in my initial reply. But I disagree with you and think you are conflating two issues.

        You say your opinions are not emotive but they are also not factual. The only data you can support this view with is numbers of rough sleepers increasing.

        Yes, that is true, but you ignore the fact that without services like NSNO the numbers might be even higher. Furthermore, NSNO isn’t run by local authorities but by charities. Yes, the LA’s unfairly lean very heavily on charities to prop up their failures – I too have seen this happening increasingly over several years – but that doesn’t make these services themselves failures.

        NSNO is successful within its own remit but they are not responsible for the causes of homelessness nor are they responsible for increases in numbers of rough sleepers. We should be angry that there isn’t better homelessness prevention, tenancy sustainment, more affordable homes, offender services, care services, etc. etc. not trashing these guys.

      2. Some good points and the topic itself deserves far more than comments here

        That said it is always impossible to say what the figures would be without NSNO

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