What’s the real story behind the cash being given to address rough sleeping?

A rough sleeper shelters from the elements in the St George's Clocktower in Canterbury (file pic)

Last week I suggested we should all be wary of the superficial schemes being announced by our council.

This week, £220,000 dropped into its bank account from the government and allowed them to shout about helping the homeless.

Now it seems a little rude to question the motives of the government in giving this money to the council to deal with rough sleepers. But when you delve into the detail then you have to wonder what the rationale for this is.

Perhaps, as I suggested last week, this is just more money being thrown by a Tory government at an endangered Tory council in the hope they can make it look like they’re the good guys.

Although to be fair, Thanet is getting more than £350,000, so maybe Sir Roger Gale and Craig Mackinley are heading for electoral oblivion, too. Or else our council is just not very good at bidding.

Catching Lives open centre provides services for homeless people

Anyway, the money is being given to the Council – not, you’ll note, directly to either Porchlight or Catching Lives, which actually have the expertise in this area of work.

With some of this money the council is going to employ a “rough sleeper coordinator”, thereby ensuring that at least three groups are trying to work with the homeless in the city.

Catching Lives will receive some of the money too, to provide extra beds over the winter. Which is great news, and good for the people they work with.

But stretching this largesse even further some of the cash will also be used to expand the severe weather emergency provision. So that £220,000 is going to be used for three separate things.

I don’t expect for a minute that Catching Lives is going to complain about the extra money, nor should it. Indeed, both they and Porchlight have welcomed it, as you’d expect.

But their funding has been so drastically cut since 2008 – yet another impact of the austerity imposed by the government – that this barely scratches the surface of the needs of the homeless, whose numbers have swollen significantly for a variety of reasons in the last few years.

In any case, what £220,000 will not do is provide permanent homes for any of the people who sleep rough. At best, it is dealing with the symptom not the problem. It would take much more money to provide both the accommodation and the pastoral care and support needed to help the most vulnerable of the homeless back into permanent homes.

What makes this worse, in my view, is that money is only for a single year. An unspecified amount has been negotiated for the following year, but organisations dealing with chronic long-term problems like homelessness can’t plan effective services like this.

In fact, when I spoke with Porchlight along with our then prospective Parliamentary candidate Hugh Lanning in 2015, one of their main concerns was the uncertainty of future funding and how that affected both their plans and their staff, who didn’t know if they would have jobs at the end of each financial period.

It’s not only Catching Lives and Porchlight that are in this predicament. Almost every body that receives either council or government funding is in the same position. Citizens Advice, whose local board I used to sit on, had exactly the same problem.

What is galling for the professionals running these charities is that they know what is needed and what the demands for services are, but the government, through short term project grants like this £220,000 is imposing its opinion on the people who have to deliver the services.

In effect, far from promoting a bottom-up volunteer led Big Society, the Government has taken control of local voluntary groups.

They are now simply cannon fodder which can be used to fulfil government’s aims and plaster over the gaps left by its incoherent, unnecessary and directly harmful austerity policies, some of which have of course created the very homelessness problem that they are now seeking to mitigate.

But at least our local Tories can make bold announcements, which you might think is the real purpose of the grant.


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