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Charitable Musings, Philosophy, Rants

What is the solution to homelessness?

Don’t tell me it’s ‘affordable housing’ because I’m mostly concerned about people living on the streets who have nothing.

I challenged someone today who asked me for “thirty pence for a cup of tea”. As I reached in my pocket my mouth leapt into action without my brain (or my manners) being in gear.

“You do this every day, what are you doing about finding a lasting solution?”

My tone was not polite but my concern was evident.

We got into a conversation and he told me that he needed £15 to afford a bed for the night. That’s fifteen quid he needs to find each and every day on top of whatever food he can buy.

He explained that he lost his job due to a heart bypass operation (whether this was his or his bosses I’m not sure) and then he and his partner split up. He hasn’t seen his (ex?) wife or child for months.

Because (in the UK) you can’t claim housing benefit for the first thirteen weeks, he became immediately homeless.

Now that he’s past the thirteen weeks, he can’t claim any benefits (no job seeker’s allowance, no housing, no unemployment benefit) because he doesn’t have an address.

Just think about that for a second. He can’t get housing benefit because he has no where to live. He can’t get a place because he has no money or benefits.

Obviously, he’s not going to walk into a job without an address, or the paraphernalia needed for a job interview (suit, CV etc.). It’s a classic catch 22 situation; I know, I’ve been homeless myself.

Hostels and real support are often reserved for the under 25s.

What the hell is the solution? I asked if he had a mate he could live with so as to get an address, but obviously you lose friends when you’re homeless, and he explained to me that the friends he could ask for help from would have their benefits cut if an adult moved in. He doesn’t want to burden the friends he has left. It’s too much to ask.

In my head, I’m thinking ‘well a resourceful chap would get a paper-round, and work cash-in-hand in a café’‘. Earn money as best you can and save up for a deposit on a bed-sit. But not only would such poor jobs only pay a few quid, they’d also leave you open to abuse and you’d be working illegally. Hardly a solution the Government would condone. (I worked in a cafe for £2 an hour when I was living in a bedist, it was not good.)

In the UK, we have the DSS (DWP) and welfare system to help people when they’re down and to support vulnerable people. So what the hell is the solution? Can’t work without an address, can’t get benefits and ‘help’ without an address, can’t get an address without money.

Nobody chooses to sleep on the streets. It was zero degrees this morning. Winter draws on.

What the hell is the solution? Don’t tell me we have to change the culture of the country and get people back in to work. You may be right; you may have a long term vision of a population that looks after itself – that’s admirable. But what the hell is the solution for a man living on the streets begging for fifteen quid for a bed for one night?

Today is Blog Action Day

The theory (in my mind) is to get bloggers to take action about poverty, and not just talk about the issues.

For my bit, I’ll be reviewing what I donate to homeless charities. Currently, I donate 1% of my earnings to the running costs of the Voluntary Organisation ‘FirstSigns’ that deals with emotional distress and self-injury. I donate many many hours of my time too, because I founded the organisations several years ago.

So I need to work out what I can donate to Shelter and such orgs. Maybe 0.5% of my earnings? Doesn’t sound a lot, but I would seriously ask what you donate. Sure, you sponsor your mate on their annual marathon, but so do I. The 0.5% that I’m considering is on top of the 1% I donate to FirstSigns, on top of the 0.25% I give to WaterAid (who help get clean water to the poorest communities in the world) and the £3 I give to homeless people begging on the streets each week (you are welcome to debate the sense in giving money to people, it’s my choice though).

So in total, I will give well over 2% of my earnings away this year and next. I know lots of people who give more. I know of lots more people who give lots more. However, most people I know only give to Cancer charities when their family members are sick, or when someone shakes a bucket at them in the street. I do what I can, what the hell do you do?

It’s Blog Action Day, so apart from worring in public about how much I give to charity (and how much free work I do for charitable causes) what am I going to do? I’m going to ring the major homeless charities and ask them what the solution is for the homeless man I’ve discussed today. I’ll report back as soon as I can.

[Wedge]

P.S. I was homeless for a short time. It was winter, I didn’t want to tell my friends how poor I was, and I was cold and somewhat hungry all the time. Such is life, I’ve experience more heartache since then, but as a young inexperienced man, it was scary being a ‘have-not’.

About Wedge

I’m Wedge, and this is my website! I’ve worked within internal communications since 2004, managing intranets and digital comms. Now I’m a freelance comms and intranet specialist - I help organisations plan and improve their intranets. I work with other agencies, and write a lot of blog and magazine articles. I founded the Intranet Now conference. You can catch up with me on Twitter - I’m @Wedge.

4 thoughts on “What is the solution to homelessness?

  • I have way too much to say on this subject so I’ll try to keep it brief and only mention one theme. Sadly, in my opinion, the solution to homelessness will not be found by any of the excellent homeless organisations out there. They can and do help as much as they can, but ultimately the government needs to recognise homelessness as a serious and major issue in this country and *do* something about it.

    Unfortunately they don’t, and never have, seemed to care. There’s always something ‘more important’. Currently it would appear that the Olympics is (are?) more important. With a budget rising to as much as £9bn (BBC news) imagine what we could do for the homeless with that! If I was given a £9bn budget I swear I could solve the problem of homelessness in the UK by 2012.

    Of course we can’t just blame the government; after all whether we like to admit it or not, they reflect the general stance of society. Society, on the whole, doesn’t *see* homelessness. It’s something to be ignored, stepped over, blamed on the homesless themselves. Homeless people don’t exist in this country; not as people. They are dismissed as garbage in the gutters, and *we* as a society are to blame; because not enough of us care.

  • I met a homeless man in Southampton some years back. His name was Ronnie Knapp. He told me that he had a job, a wife and a house once. But things went bad after he got divorced. He lost his house and his job. At that time he was living in a corner of a garage.

    He receives some money from the government every month. It was sent to his brother’s house, and he goes there to collect the checks every month.

    What I don’t understand is, how can his own brother let him live on the streets?

  • While I’ve never been homeless, my heart does go out to those who are and I support groups who will help. Here in the USA, homelessness is a problem too. In my area, we don’t have much of it, but there are some good organizations which will step in such as the Salvation Army. The comment from David asking why the brother won’t help with a place to live is a good one and I think it goes beyond the family to the local church, the government and the community as a whole. If everyone cared a little more for others, I would think it could make a huge impact on this problem. Nice thought-provoking blog entry.

  • I am also passionate about social justice. Housing in uk is a big problem. You would not have to wait 13 weeks to be housed or claim housing benefit unless you are deemed to have made yorself intentionally homeless. But this can be debatable. Then it would be tough!

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