Attitudes aimed at homeless must alter

Don’t just feed the Homeless this Christmas, stop creating an environment which oppresses them.

Before entering into politics, I used to work for a large charity in Wolverhampton, housing homeless young people. I’ve provided a bed for homeless youngsters in my home and volunteered at shelters over the years.

I’m not claiming to be an expert in homelessness but I write this piece from the a place of experience and understanding, not just from buying a rough sleeper a coffee on the way to the train station.

That’s right, we’ve all seen that amount of rough sleepers increased; around the train stations (Wolverhampton, Birmingham), asleep in shop corridors and in most town centres in the West Midlands.

We mostly sympathise with them, especially now the temperatures are dropping, we sometimes stop to buy them a coffee or even give them money. Most of us want to end homelessness, but except for the coffees that we buy or the money we give (which I’m not underestimating in any way), have we ever stopped to think that our attitude towards homeless people can create an environment which oppresses them?

The Express & Star printed an article this week about a woman outraged because a homeless person had fallen asleep in a library- the article actually read ‘a comfy sofa, central heating and plenty of hush- the perfect place to get your head down for 40 weeks’.

It was almost humouring the fact that a homeless person had fallen asleep in the library. I wonder if this woman knows what it feels like to walk the streets at night, in freezing cold temperatures trying to get comfy in a doorway- I think not. I wonder she’d experienced this, she’d be less outraged at a rough sleeper falling asleep in a warm place?

And so what? I’ve fallen asleep in the library before when I was at university studying.

I’ve also fallen asleep on trains and in taxis and no-one has been outraged.

So, why are we so outraged that a homeless person might have fallen asleep in a library? The truth is, we don’t actually know if this person was homeless. But because this woman thinks that they were, she’s making judgments about them and then expressing an attitude towards homeless people which oppresses them.

I don’t often talk politics in my column but it must be said that current Government policy does not help the issue of homelessness.

Since 2010, the number of rough sleepers in England has risen from 1,800 to 4,500. Why? Under the current Government, there has been a dangerous collaboration of chaotic welfare reforms and a huge reduction in funding for local services. Despite differing opinions of Tony Blair, under his New Labour Government we saw a reduction in homelessness by two-thirds- while the number of people sleeping rough reduced by three-quarters. So this is an issue which must be tackled from Central Government and in changing attitudes from people like the woman in the library.

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