In the second part of our interview with journalist and Chair of Nightwatch Croydon, Jad Adams, we talk about what authorities and government can do to help the growing problem of homelessness…
What should we do now to help the homeless?
“I think we’ve got to look at the very bottom. Look at where people actually are and the community that they are actually living in, and see what support that community wants to give, what that community is able to give. And we should support community initiatives with things like floating shelters and lunch clubs, and soup runs and permanent shelters. I would like to see permanent shelters throughout the country because if we only had a few, then people would gravitate to them and they would become magnets for homeless people, so I don’t think we want a few homeless shelters. I think we want lots of shelters in different towns, different boroughs throughout the country.
“Local authorities and government like to work with organisations that reflect their power structure, that have a Chief Executive and the finance department and the policy department and the operatives down at the bottom level. And shelters and soup runs and other kinds of organisations like that just don’t follow those patterns.”
“The authorities ignore the shelters in most cases. Where we’ve got floating shelters operating, for example the churches have been running them, more than half the boroughs in London had floating shelters in the last winter, when there are such shelters, very often the authorities just ignore them. Just pretend they’re not there. Because they don’t really fit into their model. Local authorities and government like to work with organisations that reflect their power structure, that have a Chief Executive and the finance department and the policy department and the operatives down at the bottom level. And shelters and soup runs and other kinds of organisations like that just don’t follow those patterns. They’re very difficult for local authorities to deal with. And so, you usually get the situation that shelters are supported by the churches or by independent charities, local independent charities, and the local authorities just ignore them altogether. I ought to say, that’s not invariably the case, because in some cases the local authorities say ‘we have the obligation to provide cold weather provision for rough sleepers, so here it is, we’ll support our local shelter.’ And I think that’s a much more positive way of doing things.”
What else can local authorities do?
“Local authorities should look at provision in their own area, look at things that people are already doing and support them. I don’t think local authorities should be kickstarting these things. I don’t think they should be going to the churches and saying ‘let’s set up a shelter’, but I think they ought to respond to the churches when they say ‘we want to set up a shelter’. I think they ought to be more helpful with providing premises and cutting through red tape with planning permissions and in referring people to homeless shelters. I think they need to get in with the game. And also give money, but this isn’t primarily a begging bowl exercise. It’s for the local authorities to have a more positive attitude to local initiatives, and to stop thinking that they can just pass on their responsibilities by handing everything that they have responsibility for, to one of the big charities and say right we’ve covered homelessness because clearly that hasn’t worked.
“It’s for the local authorities to have a more positive attitude to local initiatives.”
“They’re not very good with small charities. Local authorities like to deal with the big national charities. They like to deal with the local branch of the national charity because it reflects their power structure and their way of looking at the world, and actually they ought to be looking at what people in their own borough are doing at the grassroots and seeing if they can support that.”
Is this becoming more important to deal with as more welfare cuts loom?
“The welfare cuts make this more urgent but so does the number of indigent Eastern Europeans staying here. I mean an awful lot of Eastern Europeans came and either settled or the made a bit of money and then they went away again, and they were usually the very skilled ones. And the unskilled people came hoping that they’d pick up work and be successful, and very often have not been and so end up in tent cities or living in derelict buildings or often in very overcrowded conditions. They’re not really engaging with the community and they’re not making enough money to get out of dyer poverty and they’re largely reliant on charities and that’s really unfortunate and that’s not what the European Union and free movement of labour was really supposed to be about.”
How should we deal with this?
“That becomes politically very hot indeed. I think that what we’ve got to do is say that yes, people can come into the country, yes we absolutely permit free movement of labour, because that’s one of the four principles of the EU. It’s one of the things we ought to be doing and we all agree with it. But people should only be able to come into the country if they have a sponsor, or if they have the money to keep themselves for a couple of months or a place to live, some conditions on entry so that people can’t enter the country with nothing at all and expect to live off charity. We wouldn’t do that in another country. We wouldn’t up and go to Spain and China, and say well, I haven’t got any money, haven’t got a job, haven’t got anywhere to live and I don’t know the language but I’ll just go and live on the streets – it’s really not the way we can work in the 21st Century. And we have got to be able to apply ourselves to the new situation where we find ourselves in the EU with people of very disparate levels of wealth, so that our treatment of the poor is that much better than the treatment of the poor in Poland. It’s better to be poor in this country than it is to be poor in Poland. Countries have got to get better and develop their people slowly. It doesn’t do anyone any good to just move from one country to another.”