[cross-posted to Buck Naked Politics] Cockney Robin, who is having a jolly holiday in an exotic location, recently turned me on to Brit blog Blood and Treasure. He's now sent me this link. The link came with this note: "Just in case you think Ebenezer Scrooge ain't alive and well on this side of the Atlantic or that we don't still have a homeless problem." "Scrooge with a little added pecksniff" remarks Jamie K. in re: a BBC News article called "Do soup kitchens help the homeless?"
Jamie K deadpans, "Here's festive."
As charities launch their annual drive to help the homeless at Christmas, Westminster Council in central London is pursuing plans to ban soup kitchens from its streets. It has won some surprising support....[A]ccording to Westminster City Council, soup kitchens are drawing former rough sleepers out of hostels and back onto the streets. (BBC)
Conservative Angela Harvey, the council's cabinet member for housing, objects to the large numbers of volunteers who converge on central London to hand out free food and drinks to the homeless.
She says up to 50 soup kitchens come into Westminster from elsewhere.
"They come from Northamptonshire, from Harlow, from other places into the centre of London when we know they have homeless needs in their own neighbourhood."
"When you see 50 to 80 people waiting for a soup run, they are not homeless people by and large.
"The majority will not be rough sleepers... you see them going off with large carrier bags stuffed full of food which is for them and their house mates. We know they are in work and housed." (BBC)
On November 16, the BBC reported that Westminster's plan to limit or ban soup runs for the homeless had been dropped. (BBC News) ""Soup runs are often in touch with the most vulnerable people at the margins of society... Soup runs are part of the solution to homelessness, not part of the problem."" (BBC News) Clearly, that didn't last long, since the article I've been quoting from is dated December 23. As of November 16, London Councils, representing the 32 London boroughs and the corporation of London, had dropped the proposal in favor of a "cross-party working group" to decide how to best coordinate support for the homeless, with findings due in Spring 2008 (BBC News) At that time, this Angela Harvey said she "welcomed" their decision, though not for the reason you might think. She said:
"Along with many homelessness experts and charities, we remain convinced that action needs be taken to restrict the over-provision of soup runs, which fail to address the complex needs of rough sleepers or help them off the streets so they can be helped back into independent living," she added.
"We are confident the working group will conclude action needs to be taken to restrict the activities of soup runs, so rough sleeping can become a thing of the past." (BBC News)
I'm sorry; I don't see the logic in this. If you don't feed homeless people, they'll....stop sleeping on the sleep? When I first read this, I assumed this was code for "go be homeless someplace else." And London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, seems to have read it the same way:
"I don't think anyone seriously faced with the choice of coming into a hostel will stay on the street because of a soup run. And the idea with all the other problems we've got, with crime, that we should have police diverted to seizing their soup is just bizarre. I think this was just another: 'Can we move the poor on from Westminister?'"(BBC; emphasis added)
The formerly homeless founder of London's "The Big Issue ("an
international movement, providing opportunities for people facing
homelessness to help themselves") magazine says, and I quote,
"We wouldn't want to feed our dogs on the streets. There would be an outcry if there was a law that came out tomorrow, saying everyone had to feed their dogs on the streets. But we feed our homeless people on the streets. It is barbaric."(BBC; emphasis added)
To be fair, he goes on to say this:
"The priority should be getting people off the streets altogether. Ninety per cent of all money spent on homelessness is spent on emergency, only 10% is spent on cure. We've got it upside down." (BBC)
On the other hand, if you don't feed people who are on the street, does it follow that they'll all stop being homeless or that you'll then have resources to stop them from being homeless? Am I just dense? (Don't answer that.)
Aha! Jamie K. at Blood and Treasure explains the probable impetus behind the push to stop doling out soup.
People on the streets are only counted as sleepers if they’re “clearly bedded down in the open” - rather than dossing down in a derelict building, say - only if they happen to be horizontal when the survey team meets them and only in city centres....Central government funding for local authorities on this issue measures success by these head counts; and this money is channeled through charities and other voluntary agencies. It’s embarrassing if someone turns up with a hot meal and attracts all the uncounted and may have serious funding related repercussions. So no soup for you, dosser. (Scrooge with a little added Peckniff)
At least one homeless man---"one of 500 [only 500???] people in England who sleep rough every night"---says:
"It's really horrendous. Believe me, it's freezing," he says.
"You go to bed freezing and you wake up shaking in the morning. And that's even with a sleeping bag. And you see people without sleeping bags, and they're just shaking all night. They don't sleep."
Charities estimate that in London over the course of a year, 3,000 people will spend the night on the streets.
For them Gary believes the soup kitchen is a life saver. "It's vital because most people would die if they didn't have soup runs."(BBC)
And this homeless person seems to feel that the soup runs are pretty helpful to people who might starve or freeze to death without them.