(sorry this post was done on my mobile)
As previously mentioned on twitter and this blog, the soup runs that offer clothing are targeted by individuals and organised gangs collecting things for street trading.
One of the biggest arguments put forward in support of the soup runs is that they offer vital social contact with isolated and vulnerable people. There are a few problems with this argument. Firstly most of the soup runs serve too many people for this to be genuinely the case. Secondly many of the soup runs are so busy and disorienting that they can feel very offputting and make one feel even more isolated and alone (think for a moment how you would feel as someone new to the streets standing alone and penniless among a crowd of strangers, on a cold, wet street corner waiting for a sandwich that may or may not arrive and whether that would make you feel conducive towards forming social bonds). Most importantly, though, I feel that this aspect is overemphasised. We’re normal people. You’re simply strangers that we might engage in a short conversation. It’s like talking to a stranger at a bus stop; you might open up and share a moment but the most you’re going to think about it afterwards is ‘what a nice person that was’ and then forget about it. Homeless people do have social contacts – each other. That is genuine social engagement. The purpose of soup runs is to engage us with services, not (though it might potentially happen much later down the line) to form profound friendships. Social engagement is not somehow more meaningful between you ‘normal’ folk and us than the contact we have among ourselves; in fact, it’s a good deal more superficial.
I keep reading ‘no-one sleeps on the streets for a free sandwich’ but to keep saying that is to spectacularly miss the point. Of course people don’t come out on the streets because there is free food. When you first become homeless you go cold and hungry and you’ll do anything to get back inside again, by making every effort to secure accommodation through engaging with services. But when you connect in to the system of soup runs and the large communities of rough sleepers in the major urban centres, you suddenly lose that impetus to take action. It makes the clock stop ticking. Suddenly nothing is quite so urgent. There will undoubtedly be a multitude of small and large problems that need tackling in your life, as well as practical issues to resolve. Any one of these issues on their own would be hard enough to deal with, but, taken together, it is easy to develop an attitude of ‘maybe tomorrow’ which before you know it causes someone to become entrenched on the streets. It is difficult to achieve a balance of sustaining someone’s most basic needs without allowing them to become too comfortable to maintain the momentum for change. Certainly at the present moment the balance is too much on the side of sustaining life on the streets.
However, although people don’t become homeless for a free sandwich, if they are homeless (and know the system well) they will migrate to congregate in the areas where the soup runs are most plentiful. Most of the people at the soup runs are not from London but, if they know about what’s on offer here, they will routinely hop on a bus or train and expect westminster services to sort out the problem rather than their home area because, as they say, it’s ‘easy’ to be homeless in London and a good deal more difficult elsewhere.
That’s enough to be going on with. There are some other points in my previous blog about the soup runs that I did last year and there are points that have been raised by other people but these are my main ones.
I want to talk next about the rough sleeping part of the byelaw.