Monday 13 March 2017

In response to a Facebook post regarding homelessness

I try not to engage in Facebook arguments. It is not, in my experience, a good medium for debate. There are far too many keyboard warriors out there, meanings can be misinterpreted, and all sorts of nonsense gets spouted. Sometimes, as well, it descends into an abusive exchange. Best to keep away from that, I think.

Recently a Milton resident posted the following comment on my wall:-

So I go shopping by foot to Hamlet Court Rd,and I DESPAIR...Everywhere are beggars,but drunk and making you feel vunerable as you walk by,the shop keepers have had enough trying to keep business going,one lady in the card shop said its got so bad again makes you feel unsafe.A guy in Tesco said he now lives in Hadleigh as its so bad,On route into my road,a guy.sitting on the floor by what used to be a family run newsagents was shooting up drugs in the top of his leg,and just said Sorry lady you saw that.As I continued walking in the road as pavements are so bad causing you to trip up,I just got in knowing I wont spend the rest of my days here,its awfull.Can our councillors please do something ..May I add ive all the sympathy for genuine homeless,but not so many who make me feel unsafe as I walk where ive lived for 39yrs..

I thought it would be useful to respond by putting my views on the topic of the homeless and those that beg here.

I have a duty for all who reside in Milton ward, whether housed or not, and regardless of how they  acquire the resources for life.  I represent all, voter or not, supporter or not. However, this does not mean that I approve of bad behaviour, criminality, and the spoiling of the environment.

All who are homeless or beg are in need of help. Even those who are 'professional' beggars need our help. This help will, naturally, take all manner of forms. In a nutshell, though, the issue boils down to a shortage of affordable accommodation.

We are where we are; I shall not go into the failure of government thus far in solving this issue. However, going forward we clearly need to build more social housing and more truly affordable homes. By affordable, I mean homes that are within the means of people on average incomes, and I also think the definition includes 'suitable'. Developer avarice has to be tackled, as does planning policy that hinders. I also think that government targets were a good thing, forcing local authorities to address the problem rather than pander to NIMBYs.

So, we have to help the homeless. We also have to tackle bad behaviour. Whatever the reason, and however unfortunate the perpetrator, no-one should be allowed to get away with intimidating people, or discarding their rubbish wherever they feel fit. Neither is general anti-social behaviour (like being noisy late at night) to be tolerated.

Beggars beg through need. However, Southend-on-Sea is blessed with a number of agencies that can help. There should be no need to beg. I would never advise people to give to those that beg, give to the charities that help the homeless instead. Beggars beg in certain location because they receive money - and thus the quickest way to get rid of them is to remove the reason they beg, thus the money supplied.

The homeless often have all sorts of issues that can make them quite aggressive at times. However, I have never felt in danger or threatened, and in reality the homeless are usually amongst the most vulnerable in our town.

Coincidentally I met, in one of our local parks, a homeless man who I was acquainted with whilst helping at a winter night shelter.  He was in a bad way, clearly troubled. Superficially I can see how he could come across badly, but he needs help.

In my humble opinion we need 'wet houses', places where those who are homeless and who have substance issues can go. The current help really only works in the long term for those who can control or avoid alcohol and drugs. I will write more on this particular topic at another time.

Finally, there is no such thing as the deserving, or underserving, poor. There are just the poor, all of whom need help.

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