This afternoon I had a heartbreaking experience involving headlines, statistics, and choices I really found difficult to make. Why did I find the experience heartbreaking??? The choices involved choosing headlines and statistics which would raise awareness of the issues surrounding homelessness - both to make people think about them (and how easily it could affect them personally) and to annoy certain people in the (I fear - vain) hope that they will reverse some of their decisions.
What made the decisions worse was the fact that they shouldn't have had to have been made in the first place. In a caring, compassionate, city there should be adequate access to help for vulnerable people.
Some of the statistics were fairly run-of-the-mill stuff like the amount of people who live one paycheck away from homelessness, the amount of young people who are sleeping rough, the percentage of homeless people with Mental Health issues, homelessness increases the likelihood of people who come out of prison re-offending, etc.
Don't get me wrong - all the above are important statistics and issues which need to be resolved. However, they pale into insignificance for me when it comes to the choice between a headline which says words to the effect of "Charities say that Housing Options and Councils are Gatekeeping Homeless Services" (as in not posting people to the correct places to get the help they need) - and one which says "Women who are victims of Domestic Abuse stay with their partners". I went with the "Housing Options" headline - and I will explain why in a while
Now - I know there are reasons people give for staying in abusive relationships. I also know there are charities who provide advice and support to people who want to escape abusive relationships. What I don't know is where the victims of Domestic Abuse are going to flee to if the Councils decide to close all the refuges and hostels for them to escape to.
What little training I have had in the decision making process that the Councils should go through when deciding to help people who are homeless (or at risk of becoming homeless) is that the most vulnerable people should be helped first. Top of that list are victims of Domestic Violence and people who have been in care (there are a few other groups on that list but I forgot what the others were).
So why did I choose the one about "Housing Options Gatekeeping" instead of the one about the "Victims of Domestic Violence"?
Mainly for one reason which you may or may not agree with - if Housing Options were not busy acting as Gatekeepers and turning desperate people away from accessing services for Homeless People there may be more of a chance that the Victims of Domestic Violence/Abuse would have somewhere to escape to. This may cut their chances of going back into the same old cycle of Domestic Abuse - especially if the hostel or refuge they were sent to had qualified staff to help them with their onward journey out of that situation.
I may not be the most educated person on Planet Earth but I do know that if Councils keep cutting support for vulnerable homeless people so they can save money - someone else is going to have to deal with the consequences - and pick up the bill for doing so.
The most likely groups who will find themselves picking up the peices are the NHS (including the overstretched and under-resourced Mental Health professionals), the Police, and the Prison Service. I could be completely wrong here but I get the idea that all three of those groups are under-resourced and under-funded. (In fact, I was on a bus going past Leicester Prison when I saw a banner advertising vacancies for Prison Officers.)
Surely it would be better to adequately fund the provision of Services for Homeless People - stop places like Councils (particularly their Housing Departments) barring access to these services - and open more hostels and refuges instead of less???
Or are we really willing to sit back and watch Councils make decisions which end up costing millions in lives as well as financially - just because they want to save some money on their Budgets???
By the way - by "costing millions in lives" I don't just mean the amount of people who die as a result of homelessness. I mean the amount of lives which are ruined as a result, through drink or drug addiction, Mental Health issues which may arise from being homeless, loss of self-confidence, etc.
A civilised community should be willing to help the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable members of society, even if it means taking money and time away from the richest.
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