Everybody – well, not quite everybody – is concerned about homelessness. People want to do something – or want something done. Politicians want to do something – or say they do. And the papers love it – it feels like real news in an age when “snow in January” can make the front page for several days running (see also pages 3,7-8 and 10) – and, sadly, makes good clickbait.
People really do want to do something – one project that I’m involved in had no trouble recruiting three hundred volunteers to provide accommodation for rough sleepers over the winter. Sometimes people go it alone – setting up yet another food project or wandering the streets handing out random stuff without reference to what’s already available, but the compassion is real.
Politicians I’m more sceptical about. I think that some, especially locally, are completely genuine in their concern, but initiatives are often short-term, superficial and vulnerable to cuts. This is sticking plaster politics which fails to deliver long term solutions or, more importantly, address the problems that cause homelessness in the first place.
Two stories caught my eye this week. One is that Oxford City Council is planning a new “Homeless Hub” in a building that it already owns. The other is that Oxfordshire County Council is planning to cut spending on mental health, one of the chief causes of homelessness. The cuts to mental health services will save £1.6M – creating the new Homeless Hub will cost £1.6M. You couldn’t make it up.