I was appalled to see this story in the Hendon Times today -
It tells how up to eight homeless people have been squatting in a derelict garage. The Times reports
"at least eight Polish, Irish and Romanian men had been living in the derelict garages off Rectory Lane at various times over a two year period."I am appalled by the tone of this article and the action taken by Barnet Council. Regular readers of this blog will know that I volunteer at a homeless day centre on a weekly basis. Over the preiod I've been working there, I've learned a lot about the issue of homelessness and what is and isn't effective.
Let me explain a few of my objections to what is written in this article. The biggest issue I have is the racist tone of the article and the failure to acknowledge the humanity of the people involved. Would it be OK if the men sleeping rough were English? Is their nationality in any way relevant to the issues they are causing or any other problems? Are Irish people who are homeless in any way inferior to any other homeless person? Or Poles or Romanians.
I am also rather alarmed by the suggestion that boarding up the garage will reduce crime and solve the problem. Of course the people living in the garage will move. They still exist though. They have simply been displaced to somewhere else. Whilst the residents of this part of Edgware have seen the back of them, someone else is waking up this morning with a new problem on their doorstep. Any associated crime has also moved.
The report states that the people living in the garage refused assistance from charities and other agencies. From my experience of homeless people, this is quite likely to be correct. The reason is because of the coercive nature under which the help was offered. It is quite clear that the plan was to board up the garages and move the people along. Estimates say that perhaps 70-80% of homeless people have mental health issues and substance abuse issues. In short they are not good at decision making. They are even worse at decision making when placed in situations of stress. The charity I work with has teams of outreach workers scouring the street for homeless people. Often it can take days or even weeks for a level of trust to be built up to the level where they will even come into the centre for a free breakfast. To suggest that when a team of police and council contractors turn up to evict these people, they will happily talk to outreach workers is complete nonsense.
We have to ask "what happens when homeless people get moved?". Well usually they are desperate. However vile their circumstances were before, now they do not even have that level of security. Their first priority will be to find a safe, dry refuge. If you've gone on holiday for the week and they notice your house is empty, maybe that location could be your house? It could be you shed or your garage.
Compared to Victoria, where I volnteer, Barnet has a very small problem with homelessness. The agencies in Barnet have far less of a challenge. We have a very snobbish attitude to street drinkers and homeless people. No one grows up with an ambition to become a homeless alcoholic. People end up in this situation because their lives have gone wrong. Alcoholism is a disease and it is one which usually is created by other issues - abuse, mental illness, financial or relationship break up. The vast majority of Irish, Poles and Romanian men in the UK are here because they wanted to find a better life and to work. The economic situation has resulted in the breakdown of their lives. Anyone who thinks that living in a rat infested garage with a bunch of strangers and drinking yourself silly every day is a good lifestyle is quite deluded.
So you may ask, what am I suggesting? Leaving them in the garage ad infinitum. No of course not. That would benefit no one. What I am suggesting is that as the problem has gone on for two years, the council has failed miserably in all aspects of dealing with it. The council will know how long the process takes to legally address the problem. During this period, social services should have built up a relationship with the dwellers and worked on building up a level of trust. Once this has been established, then you can start working on getting people out of such a chaotic lifestyle. The one thing which can be guaranteed is that wherever the dweller have gone, it is not to take up residence at the Ritz Hotel. They have simply become someone elses problem and the whole cycle will start again. In two years time, we'll have another story about another eviction. Assuming the people haven't died in the meantime.
Is this really what those of us, with nice comfy homes want?