Tuesday 18 January 2011

Getting the homeless off the streets for good

I remember attending a hustings as part of the London Mayoral elections in 2008. Representatives from some of the major homeless charities were hostile toward any candidate who dared question their methods which, it appeared to me, inadvertently incentivised the homeless to remain on the streets. The hustings was supposed to be about housing in general but descended into bickering about which charities supplied the most meals to London's homeless; failing to provide long-term solutions to help those sleeping rough on London's streets.

In many ways helping the homeless has become an issue all political parties have to agree on, as moving away from this 'consensus' labels you some kind of rabid uncaring right winger. It's the domestic equivalent of international aid. Like DFID, you're never quite sure the large amounts of money spent get the results we would hope for. Like DFID it is a badge of honour for the liberal-left to be seen to be supporting this issue and these charities.

So, it was sad to see last night's report in London's Evening Standard telling the shocking tale of groups of homeless living in bins to survive the cold winter nights. Anyone with any humanity would feel for these poor people but the report was a tool to highlight work of charities supplying sleeping bags and coats to the homeless. 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.

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?

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