Three things brought the homeless situation into stark focus for me this week. Firstly, as Trustee of a charity that primary helps ex-prisoners but has recently through partnership been involved in the homeless provision in Stoke on Trent it was heartening to hear the strides being made to address the homeless issues in the city. Secondly was the heart-breaking story in the news this week of a man that stayed with his dead wife for three days, the couple had been living in a tent after being made homeless in lockdown. Te third was the most personal, while going to collect my car from my underground parking space at work, in front of the locked gates at the entrance to the garage was a couple snuggled under a dirty duvet to keep warm, I simply said “ sorry guys , I am going to need you to move so I can get my car out” they started to get up and the guy said to me
“sorry sir, and thanks for not being a prick about it”
“pardon” I asked
“ you spoke to use like we were real people, not many people do , thank you” he went on to tell me a little bit about his health issues and some of wat they had been through , in total we only chatted for a couple of minutes and they disappeared with what little they had around the corner. Less than a minute later the security guard for my building came running around to make sure I was OK, I just said “yea fine , they are nice people” they were.
Now before I pick up my saint badge, I spoke to them no differently than I would speak to anyone, I am also aware working in Hanley of the anti-social behaviour that is evident in the town centre.
The answer to the homeless question is not a easy one, but one we nee to address if we are to see our city prosper. Indeed, the problem could get worse before it gets better with the squeeze on fuel and cost of living about to make things a whole lot worse. We also need to acknowledge often the fact someone is homeless is the tip of the iceberg.
I often hear the somewhat compelling argument that we should be looking after our veterans who are homeless before immigrants etc, it’s a flawed argument I am afraid. The fact is we have more beds in Stoke on Trent than we have homeless people however we have to address the underlying issues of drug an alcohol abuse and dependency, mental health issues, social issues and chaotic lifestyles and in a small number of cases an entrenched lifestyle that chooses homelessness over a more stable lifestyle.
The goal in Stoke on Trent is to become a City that looks after its homeless to the point we can all but eradicate the problem, but it will not be easy. The ethos must be to find the right place for the person and not just put a person in a place. I commend the works of the charity Concrete who are leading the effort in Stoke in coordinating a multi charity and agency approach through the destination home project but we as a city need to start looking beyond the stigma of homelessness and see the person.
To find out more about the work of Concrete and the destination home go to thisisconcrete.org.uk