Rough sleeping, Davos and the power of money

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07 Feb 2018
by Michael Leng

A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference in Nottingham to discuss the growing crisis or rough sleeping on our streets – a phenomenon that, frankly, has been turbocharged by Austerity.

As I chatted to some of the more than 200 delegates from around the country I was struck by the irony that, just a short plane ride away in Davos, Switzerland, many of the richest and most powerful in the world were gathering to discuss the global economy. 

The simple truth – and the point of this blog – is that rough sleeping is not a problem that exists in isolation. It can be patched up and even hidden from view, but it cannot be swept away without serious investigation of the reasons why people end up in such dire situations in the first place.

Apparently we are doing okay; better than okay, even. The advanced economies of the world are performing more strongly than expected and (thus far at least) the global financial system shows little sign of plunging into a Donald Trump-shaped black hole.

trump

This is undoubtedly great news for the wealthier people in our country, but what about for the poorest and most vulnerable? How does any of this, for example, help those people whose multiple problems have led them through homelessness and onto the streets? 

As I listened to some of the excellent and highly knowledgeable speakers at our annual impact briefing I thought more and more about this question. It’s undoubtedly true that the current crisis is directly linked to myriad cuts in public services which have seen the most vulnerable among us falling through increasingly large gaps in our common safety net and ending up at rock bottom. But what would we do to make things better if the kind of money that was slushing around in the Swiss Alps was directed towards helping homeless and vulnerable people? 

For a start I’d re-instate what used to be known as Supporting People funding – a ring-fenced pot for local authorities to spend specifically on alleviating and preventing homelessness alongside targeted support for those living in specialist supported accommodation. From there I would re-instate the funding lost to our mental health services, our welfare system, our prison and probation services and many other areas besides… 

As I thought more and more about how I’d send this imaginary pot of gold I was struck by two thoughts: 1) that this money was simply never going to arrive [not from Central government at any rate] and 2) perhaps I was thinking things through in the wrong order. You see, if we as a society really did have a Davos sized cheque book with which to waft away the problem of rough sleeping, we’d perhaps have a genuine chance to stop it before it started in the first place. 

Perhaps we could combine that money with a dose of political goodwill and attempt to answer some more fundamental questions that this issue of rough sleeping throws up;

  • Why, for example, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, do we have an ever-growing population of people with multiple needs – who, as well as being homeless, are routinely misusing drugs and alcohol and are living with often serious mental health problems?
  • Why are we turning so many people out of prison and straight onto the streets?
  • Why do we have a care system that so routinely fails and damages vulnerable young people to the point where they end up on the streets?
  • Why are we seeing more and more deeply vulnerable people turn to horrifically damaging and  powerful synthetic drugs to block out the misery of their day-to-day existence
  • Why are we seeing children born into such chaotic, damaging environments – often to parents who themselves have been failed by the system and left behind by society?
  • And what will be done to prevent these people from becoming the rough sleepers of tomorrow?

Of course, there are no easy answers to any of these questions. I’ve also been around long enough to know that money on its own cannot solve such complex challenges without an equally significant investment of political capital – a clear statement that some things are not acceptable and need to be addressed.

The simple truth – and the point of this blog – is that rough sleeping is not a problem that exists in isolation. It can be patched up and even hidden from view, but it cannot be swept away without serious investigation of the reasons why people end up in such dire situations in the first place.

*Michael Leng is Framework's Operations Director

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