Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Help the homeless, just do it somewhere else please

On a topic completely unrelated to either law or IT, (not bad, only 3 posts in and already off-topic),  I couldn't help but make a small comment on yesterday's news that The Conservative Westminster Council have decided that "soup runs" actually contribute to the plight of the homeless and have decided to ban them. 

At first glance the argument that free hand-outs of hot food somehow exacerbate the already desperate plight of the homeless, might seem to some people to contain a form of anti-intuitive logic. The argument goes that the soup runs somehow prevent those in need from seeking help through official channels that might more effectively lead to them getting off the streets.

Call me cynical but I feel that the truth of the matter can be seen a bit more clearly when one examines closely exactly what has been said. Daniel Astaire, cabinet member for society, families and adult services, said: "soup runs on the streets in Westminster actually encourage people to sleep rough in central London, with all the dangers that entails." 

So let's get this straight, what you are saying is soup runs cause increased levels of homelessness. To me that's a bit like saying "more people turn to smack because they know they can get free needles from the needle-exchange". Perhaps if we were to read Mr Astaire's statement a bit more like this? "soup runs in Westminster actually encourage people to sleep rough in Central London (ie Westminster). Does that make things a bit clearer? 

More than 250,000 people find themselves homeless every year and the reasons behind this number are varied, complicated and tragic. The way Mr Astaire refers to the soup runs as "encouraging" people to sleep rough makes homelessness sound like some sort of undesirable lifestyle choice like smoking or binge drinking. The fact is that more than 3,600 people slept on the streets of London during 2008 and the vast majority of these people did so because they, through fear or desperation, had no choice. To try and ban the lifeline of a hot meal to these people because it might attract more of them strikes me as the most cold-hearted form of nimbyism I have heard in a long time.

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