[Small point – I missed two locations for soup runs. Sunday under waterloo bridge north side – two soup runs come at lunchtime. Waterloo bridge south side Wednesday about 8pm. There are other groups that go to the waterloo area but I tend not to use them and many of them are there as part of a multi-stop soup run that also comes to the Strand or Lincoln’s Inn Fields.]
The problem with saying that the soup runs can self-regulate to mitigate these factors is that this has been shown in the past not to be achievable. Housing Justice have admitted that overtures have previously been made to some of the groups not already involved in the Soup Run Forum and many had bluntly responded they didn’t wish to coordinate and they simply preferred to do their own thing. Of course one of the reasons for this is that many of the groups are not Christian and may not wish to be part of an umbrella organisation that is. The LSE report says that although attempts to reduce the number of soup runs have previously been successful for short periods of time in the past, it has always been followed by a subsequent steady climb in numbers, particularly from groups attending sporadically and originating from outer London.
There are some issues that have been raised that I don’t think are actually a significant problem and others that are far more pressing that haven’t been mentioned at all. Food quality standards and hygiene are frequently cited as a potential problem. I can say that, although the actual quality of food is variable, hygiene isn’t a major issue (there is one group that I had a particular problem with but I have already mentioned it to them and they said it is being dealt with). Food quality is generally pretty good but lacks variety. By this I don’t mean variety in flavour but rather in nutritional content. There is a tendency to provide carbohydrate-heavy meals (even vegetarian dishes, though they don’t have meat, also rarely provide much in the way of vegetable content). The need to provide food that meets nutritional standards should not be overlooked as of primary importance because a balanced diet is at the core of good mental and physical health, particularly when so many on the streets have compromised health from alcohol and drug addictions. Obviously there is a cost factor here but if the soup runs undertook to coordinate provision so that they each took responsibility for one meal per week, fortnight or month they could operate without increasing their current budget. [A side point – most of the sandwiches handed out on the street are from Pret and Eat – most homeless I have spoken to prefer home-made plainer sandwiches: firstly, because most rough sleepers have terrible teeth and, secondly, because they keep better – the mayonnaise on shop sandwiches makes them soggy and inedible within a couple of hours. There has to be a better way of distributing these sandwiches so they get to people who are going to enjoy them more – there are currently far too many being handed out on the street to all get eaten.]
Another issue with the soup runs is that many of the volunteers possess views that most would regard as objectionable to say the least. My transgender friend has suffered abusive comments at some soup runs; I have had people criticise my religion after I told them what it is; and I have personally been handed leaflets indicating that I am on the streets because I have “turned away from God” and am “on the path to hell” and that I am responsible for being on the streets but they are able to “save” me. I am actually a tolerant person so it doesn’t upset me when people have quite extreme views but I am a white, teetotal, non-drug taking, non-smoking, politely spoken Englishwoman and I have experienced things like this, so can you imagine what people are being told who prove more “challenging” in their presentation? It is easy to envisage that someone could (out of their – let’s be generous – naïveté) provoke an argument with a homeless person over such a point and cause that homeless person to become highly distressed or even to hit them (leading to further exclusion and punishment). There is a tendency when interactions are taking place outside – and unobserved – for people to be less guarded in the way they talk and act. Coming inside should, one would hope, have a profound effect on the way some of these groups operate and present their views to the homeless. (I don’t think there is a need for any group to be excluded from the discussions taking place. Everyone should be given a chance to show that they can operate in a way that is respectful.)
Many of the people living on the streets are (or should be) registered disabled. They deserve to eat on a chair.
There is so much food handed out on the street that a very large proportion of it gets chucked away. I see it everyday and have blogged about it regularly in the past.
Coming up – crime and concept of charity.