Of Homeless Hubs, Haven for Hope, Hostels and Hackney Wick.

Not the official 2012 London Olympics logos

(Note: I draw the reader’s attention to the disclaimer  on this website – i.e. I do not seek to represent the views or opinions of Doorway Wiltshire Ltd.)

2012. The year in which London will host the games of the XXX Olympiad – the Summer Olympics. And also the year stated in November 2008 by Margaret Beckett, then Housing Minister, as the target date for ending street homelessness in the UK. Those two facts are coincidental. Or not, if one is inclined to cynicism, as I am. Although one fact applies to London, and one to the UK, it is stated in the Evening Standard article linked to above that half of the rough sleepers in the UK are in Central London. And anyway, it often seems that to the movers and shakers, London IS the UK.  I have talked about the ‘cleansing the streets’ aspects of major world sporting events before, for example in a comment on Homeless Girl’s blog in August, specifically mentioning the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Since then we have had the Delhi Commonwealth Games, although they seem to have caused homelessness rather than hidden it. There is a lot of prestige at stake, and large corporate sponsors to keep happy. A sanitised, freshly-painted façade must be shown to the world. Not like the scene shown in this picture taken in Hackney Wick in 2006, very near the site of the new Olympic Stadium in Stratford.

Homeless man in Hackney Wick 2006

Predictably there has been some dissent to perceived subjugation of London to the Olympics.

Graffiti in London (partly censored)

As it happens, the deadline for ending rough sleeping in London has now been officially accepted to have moved from  by 2012 to by the end of 2012′ (a quote from a spokesman for Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, in ‘The Pavement’ 30th September , so not in time for the start of the Olympics in July anyway.

There had already been debate about what constitutes ‘ending rough sleeping’ (and of course a totally separate debate about the definition of, and the counting and recording of, rough sleepers – see for example, this article from ‘The Pavement’ in October).

The organisation Homeless Link stated on its website:

“We are campaigning for an end to rough sleeping ‘once and for all’ in this country by the time the Olympics come to Britain in 2012.  Often homelessness is swept out of sight for the Olympics, this time we believe it can be different”

They listed ‘Ten Key Challenges’ including:

“End rough sleeping by 2012 in each local authority area and nationally.”

“Give everyone an alternative to a night on the streets, without having to move out of their home area.”

 “Back hostels and day centres that change lives.”

 “Support people to leave homelessness with a strong web of commissioned accommodation, employment, health and advice services personalised to their needs.”

“Move people on from hostels as soon as they are ready. Commit to moving on the 45% of residents that are ready to go but have no suitable housing option.”

The Mayor of London’s spokesman, previously quoted, stated:

“By ending rough sleeping, we mean that by the end of 2012, no one will live on the streets of London, and no individual arriving on the streets will sleep out for a second night.”

Whatever the motivations for the 2012 timescale, an approach which helps the rough sleepers to come off  the streets into appropriate and supported accommodation, addressing the often multi-factorial reasons that they are on the streets in the first place, is surely to be commended. The important thing being that it should not just be an exercise in sweeping the streets ‘clean’ of people and running them out of town, or ‘containing’ them for the duration of the Olympics, and letting them out again afterwards.

And at this point we have a new sighting (new to this country, anyway) – the ‘homeless hub’:

“A rough sleeping hub is likely to be set up in London to organise housing and support for homeless people, as part of a drive to end the problem by 2012.

The hub, which will be run by London charities in a location yet to be decided, will act as a centre for rough sleepers to be taken to after they have been spotted on the streets. They will only sleep there if no alternatives can be found and for no longer than three nights. A 24-hour hotline is also planned, which members of the public will be able to call if they see someone sleeping on the streets. Outreach teams will then head out and engage with the homeless person reported.”

No mention there of what might happen to rough sleepers if they refuse to go into this ‘hub’ – how much coercion may be used, how many of the existing structures which support people who are rough sleeping  might be forced to close down. No mention of how personalised the service may be, to avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

There is a precedent across the Atlantic, in San Antonio, Texas –  the ‘Haven for Hope’

(I am intrigued by the ‘Community Court’ and the ‘Transformational Services’….)

There was some disquiet expressed when the facility was mooted, and this disquiet has not gone away since it opened – as aired in this change.org ‘Poverty in America’ article in September.

“….they shut down many organizations that fed hot meals to homeless people each and every day, with the hope that those people would cross town and end up at Haven for Hope if there wasn’t food available.…..strict rules, like a 10 p.m. curfew. Even residents who have jobs that keep them out past 10 have reported having trouble staying at Haven for Hope because guards wouldn’t make an exception for the employed. People complain that the place feels like a jail — not exactly the warm, homey environment they were promised. As a result, many homeless people are wary of the place….”

On a smaller scale, I have spoken to people in (or recently in) hostels in this country, where they are supposed to be getting support from trained staff to help them move on by addressing their problems and needs – with, to repeat the quotation above, ‘a strong web of commissioned accommodation, employment, health and advice services personalised to their need’. Their experiences have been variable to say the least. In the cases of some, there is a  contract and a care plan agreed on entry, with regular key-worker support, a structured, well-informed and well-trained approach. In others, the residents have been left with the impression that there is no plan, no support, very little staff expertise, no positive community feel, and that for those with substance abuse problems, they are actually at more risk of relapse and/or worsening than they were on the streets. I have heard comments from people that they had been in more homely jails. Maybe hearing all this is a big part of what worries me about the ‘hub’. I hope my fears are unfounded. Certainly there are those who disagree with me strongly, and feel that the rough sleepers may need their free will to be overruled in their best interests – for example a discussion I had with ‘aibaihe’ on her blog at the beginning of this month.

I stand to be disagreed with regarding the ‘free will’ and ‘individual’s greater good’ debate. Although I shall not budge from the conviction that addiction is unlikely to be overcome unless the individual buys into the process of fighting it, for themselves. And I shall also remain convinced that a bespoke, personalised, approach is necessary for each rough sleeper.

And from a small-town Wiltshire point of view, I’ll repeat one of the comments on the ‘Inside Housing’ ‘hub’ article:

“Where are all the wonderful plans for all the places outside London that have rough sleepers? This is not just the capital’s problem and getting services into smaller towns and rural areas is almost impossible…”

I’ll finish by repeating, from the change.org piece about the Haven for Hope:

“the monolithic facility overlooked one important detail: “homeless people” are not some big group with all the same problems and reasons for being on the streets. They’re individuals, and a one-size-fits-all program isn’t going to fit a lot of people out there who still need help” 

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