30 June, 2005

Big issue founder slams charities

John Bird founder of the big issue accused homeless charities of mollycoddling homeless people. My answer to that is what a load of nonsense. How can these charities molly coddle homeless people when funds are desperately needed to teach people the basics on how to live a normal healthy life?
I spent over thirty years living on and off the streets because I was a drug addict. When I first went into the hostel system if you where a drug addict you could not get the treatment needed to come off drugs. If you were found using you were just thrown back on the streets. In today's system of homelessness a small percent are addicts of some kind. There is a bit more tolerance of addicts today but not enough places. When I came off drugs I was still homeless. Could I get a hostel? Could I get into education? No. Hostel places were scarce then and still are now and I was always refused entry into college because I was homeless. Even when I went back into the hostel system, I was still refused a place at college simply because I could not afford it. I changed hostels and everything began to fall into place.
John Bird, the self confessed spokesman for the homeless, says the problem is how to get rid of homeless people once they are with you - how do we move them on?
It takes a few years to get someone used to being a part of society. Not because its a hard task. It's just that homeless people get so used to life on the streets and not being accepted as part of society that they become lost in a world you cannot really understand unless you have been there. Believe me when I tell you, some people eventually die alone on the streets with it being the only way of life they have known.
Mr Bird accuses homeless people of being hangers on in a way, even after they have got their flats. But getting a flat is not the end of the problem homeless people face. Things like paying rent or for electricity, water, even for food. Which, by the way, many have never had to do. Also the simple things like cooking they need to learn. Which is why there are sustainment teams like Thames Reach who go out and see people in there new accommodation. All this takes time and money. There are always people that cannot make the transition into normal like. The hostel system is the safest place for these people. Not back on the streets.
Mr Bird also says his big beef is that he thinks that people are kept homeless by the generosity of the public. What a load of codswallop. Without the generosity of the public, homeless people would be in a very precarious position. We'd see a larger number of people sleeping rough. The idea that giving charities money only gives hope is quite a senseless statement to make. If it had not been for a charity funding me so I could go to college then I wouldn't be able to write this blog.
He also says we should shift from oxygenating failure, to preventing the problem but don't you think that's a bit late in the day? We can only prevent a certain amount of people falling into the trap of homelessness. We can spend millions on prevention but in the end we would still have the abused runaways, the drug addict moving to try and change his life, the alcoholic. We would also still have the mentally disadvantaged.
My own personal view is we do have a great emphasis on actual homelessness because we can identify homeless people. But how can you prevent something that you cannot control as most homeless people become homeless on spur of the moment decisions. They believe they have no other choice but to leave wherever they are, whether it be in a flat or their parents. When I ran away from home it wasn't a thought out thing it was a spur of the moment decision.
We have a vast amount of people that are now in the hostel system and once one vacancy arises it is automatically filled. It is not the hostels' fault that there is a lack of affordable housing. Even hostels have their own move on accommodation which is always full. It does in fact all come down to money. If you haven't got the money, you cannot perform miracles and if you have (and only a very small per cent actually do make it in to normal life) then it does prove that miracles do happen! Which would you have - a society that cares or a society that is disintrested?
Would you like to tell Mr bird to shut up? Then comment.


tonda_cz said...

Hi Jamie,

It is people like you who are the true spokespeople for the homeless community. Your prespective and objectivity have not been clouded as John Bird's has been, by power and saying what the people in power want to hear. His comments are consistently hard-edged, not really taking the needs of the most vulnerable members of the homeless community into account. From his point of view, he has been on the streets and since made something of his life. Yet to believe that the same route is possible for all people is dangerous, as every person is different. People should stand up to him more, as he is in a position to make a real difference - sadly he seems to be using this influence to cosy up to the Conservative party and forget about his roots. Keep up the good work!

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