The byelaw (part one)

I think it is safe to say by now that no real debate is going to come about in relation to the proposed byelaw banning soup runs from operating in a small area of Westminster and additionally to lying down and rough sleeping in public places in the same area. This disappoints me greatly but it is not a big surprise. I attended the meeting of the Soup Run Forum when they met to plan their response to the consultation and it was clear that there was not going to be any engagement with the views of the other side and that simply their position would remain rigidly against the byelaw. As I discussed with other people after the meeting (homeless friends and people working in the homeless sector), I hadn’t wanted to get involved in the debate at all really because I am just one person and I believed the agencies and individuals concerned would conduct the debate in a professional and considerate way, at all times putting the needs of the homeless like myself first. However, the meeting left me feeling quite angry. A couple of very highly regarded charities had offered some support to the byelaw; not 100% support for its wording – particularly in relation to the rough sleeping aspect – but a tentative backing for the principle that soup runs were an outdated concept and they would instead welcome the involvement of the people currently running them in new ways of operating to offer more constructive and targeted assistance to helping people escape life on the streets. The main thrust of people’s views at the Forum – and I say this having thought long and hard about how to phrase this as delicately as possible – was that the byelaw is above all else a violation of “their right” to feed the homeless on the streets. It does not seem to matter that there is starting to develop quite a considerable consensus among the many homeless organisations that – well meaning though these people’s actions may be – it is interfering with their own work (the work of professional agencies – that is organisations that have to work to professional guidelines, whose work is monitored, who have to meet relevant targets and outcomes, whose staff have been vetted and trained and, most importantly, who can be called to account if they fail to attain these standards). I now feel I must speak up. I know there has been some considerable criticism of me by some of the charities that organise soup runs. I am willing to take that criticism even though I am obviously not on the best of form at the moment. The reasons that fortify me in doing so are that I know I represent some of the feelings of the street homeless (I will point out where this is the case below); where I don’t represent the feelings of other homeless I am genuinely trying to think of our best long-term interests; and finally because I happen to think that one of the people who has taken the most stick over this debate (i.e. Jeremy Swain of Thames Reach) is a good man who doesn’t deserve to have his name blighted in this systematic way by the campaign (and let’s not pretend the media campaign is anything other than systematic and organised). If you actually read his position (and that of St Mungos and others) on this, you’d recognise straightaway that it is rather more nuanced than it is being made out to be. I admire his courage and seeing as I am someone whose confidence has taken quite enough battering at the hands of bullies over the last several decades, his courage in taking a stand has instilled in me a sense that there are people out there who think the way I do and still go on to make a success of their lives and to have a positive impact on the lives of others.

[This isn’t going to be one long negative diatribe by the way. I want to offer up some acknowledgement of the positive work that is being done already and that can be expanded upon.]


About aibaihe

I'm Tom. This is my art!
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3 Responses to The byelaw (part one)

  1. Hi Tom

    I need to make points in response to these posts – the purpose of this meeting of the soup run forum was to develop a stratgy for responding to the proposal to ban soup runs and rough sleeping. This was never going to be a meeting in which the more nuanced arguments were going to be discussed. That discussion has actually been going on within (and outside of) the forum and the soup run core group with Housing Justice, Westminster Council, the Mayors office, DCLG, Crisis, and all the other agencies that have a view and want to join the discussion. So its not really fiar to say that there isn’t a wider and more sophisticated discussion, because there is.

    sadly that more constructive discussion – e.g. how to create more in door services that are open in the evenings and weekends, (we’d all like to see that) and how to bring the different ends of the voluntary services together to be more coordinated and therefore working more smartly toegther, is in fact the primary purpose of the forum. Look at the HJ webite or the facebook group for the minutes from the meetings and I think you will see that. And that conversation has been somewhat put on hold by this idiotic byelaw. That Westminster want to introduce. And that does not foster any sense of a shared agenda of improving services.

    And it’s not even really about soup runs alone. Hostels closing and if/when they re-open there will be fewer beds. The Salvation Army Day Centre in Rochester Row closed – to a sigh of relief from WCC – last year. I think you will also concede that the reduction in help available is also coming at a time of other cuts to benefits, to advice services, to local authority grants, and to social housing and all other services that homeless and poor people need. Is this really the right time to be saying that volunteers who are trying to do something to help at no cost to the public purse should leave it all alone and let the professionals get on with it? Are the commissioned services all so wonderful? And if they are doing everything that they should be doing why are you still on the street?

    I’ll stop there for now, but as always, look forward to seeing you soon.. maybe on Sunday?

  2. Dolores says:

    Peace {{{@*_*@}}} xxx

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