Initiative? We Could Use Some
Squall 4, April/May 1993, pg. 20.
“CHAR (Housing Campaign for Single Homelessness) believes that squatters are simply being used as a scapegoat by the Government for its failure to properly address single homelessness,” ran a statement released by the charity at the end of last year.
Practically all council and housing association property is given to those who qualify as being in ‘priority’ need. So, if the Government decide to criminalise squatting and remove one of the only options available to single homeless people, what initiatives are in place to deal with their plight?
The Department of the Environment answers this question with talk of their well-publicised Rough Sleepers Initiative and so it is worth having a look at the effectiveness of this initiative in dealing with single homelessness.
* The scheme only operates in seven central areas of London and nowhere else in the country.
* It is only targeted at people who are roughing it on the streets and not at any other groups of single homeless people, like those already in hostels, squatters and those sleeping on other people’s floors.
* Over the last three years the Government has spent £96 million on the project
* The money to finance the scheme is not ‘new’ money. It was removed from the fund for social repairs (used for utilities like street lighting).
* The DOE says the number of homeless people on the streets has dropped from “over a thousand” to 420 since the initiative began in 1990. If we make a generous estimate that “over 1,000” means 1,500, then the initiative has removed 1,080 rough sleepers from the streets of London. This constitutes £88,000 per head.
* The DOE says the initiative has provided 950 hostel beds but this is a very short term emergency solution to homelessness. The 550 people who, over winter, have stayed in cold weather shelters will have to find alternative accommodation or return to the streets, when they close this March.
* Because the initiative concentrates on sweeping away the symptoms rather than removing the causes, a new wave of single homeless people take to the streets every year.
* The DOE says the initiative has provided 2,200 permanent places for rough sleepers. If we take this figure as being representative of the lasting effect of the initiative then the accommodation has cost £43,636 per head- enough money to build a house.
* The DOE has reduced the budget for the next three years to £86 million despite the fact that there has been no let up in the causes of homelessness.
What do housing workers say about the initiative?
“The Rough Sleepers Initiative is cynically designed to remove the visual sight of homelessness from the city centre,” says Joe Oldman from CHAR. “It has been fairly successful within its own limited criteria but it is so limited that it provides no real lasting solutions to the increasing problem of single homelessness.”
“Many of the root causes of street homelessness go way back to social service level,” says Brian Millar, a housing outreach worker in the West End. "You have to remember that a lot of rough sleepers are on the streets because of bereavement, partnership breakups, poverty and unemployment.
“The idea of the social services and social concern is to provide support to such people in crisis rather than just try and pick up the pieces years later. At this point many have already become hardened rough sleepers, possibly with some kind of drug or alcohol problem.
“But social services have been suffering from cuts upon cuts upon cuts and so as soon as the rough sleepers initiative sweeps a load of homeless people off the streets a new wave will replace them. I believe this scheme is devoid of any lasting solutions and is aimed more at ridding the tourist areas of beggars and homeless people than dealing with the problem.”
The Rough Sleepers initiative is the only response the Government has made to the increasing problem of single homelessness, except of course for its proposals to criminalise squatting.