In 2017 I undertook some social research in a small town in Buckinghamshire to research was commissioned by the local authority. There were two pieces the first was published however, they did not publish the second piece or really seem to accept the fundamental aspects of the findings. This piece of research was about the costs associated with homelessness for that specific council.
They specified we use a questionnaire which the stake holders were heavily involved in creating and included questions that were restrictive and did not really allow for a free dialogue and a sufficient exploration of topics to make accurate analysis. I was informed there were 18-24 homeless people in the area I was also informed that they were only interested in street sleepers…..this meant no people in car parks not people who lived in tents etc.
I quickly found there were much more people homeless than the official figures and despite the limitations of the questionnaire people were eager to talk. Many participants were being characterized as intentionally homeless for reasons that were often unfounded or unsubstantiated. The council were frequently removing homeless people’s possessions.
There was also one incident where the police officers had removed food from someone who was begging and was given it. I spoke with a man who was living in a tent and the only homeless charity in the town wanted him to sign up to the local bidding scheme knowing he had little or not access to a computer. This particular man told me he had gone for a job in the council as a refuse worker. At the interview they informed him that they were aware that he was homeless and could not be considered for the job. This particular charity also frequently told me after me interviewing service users that they were liars. They also openly told me that they “don’t like to feed junkies” I observed times when some service users were denied use of the washing machine and not been let in at all. They aimed the service at those who were able to keep appointments and sign up to job websites etc.
They actively discouraged users who had drug problems and whose lives were chaotic. During the research I met a man who was blind and homeless he couldn’t speak English he had a friend who helped him day to day but both had no real knowledge of the system couldn’t see and couldn’t fill in a form. He had been homeless for 9 months and no one had helped him apply for housing or benefits. Once I began to find bk some finding to the stakeholders they started to ask questions like how did I come to the figures for the amount of people who were homeless and how did I know they were really homeless.
They often queried my definition of homelessness which they were instrumental in defining. What was clear is that the local authorities approach to homelessness was in fact making the homeless more vulnerable. But more than that it’s the attitude of key players that will ensure the most vulnerable will be neglected.
I found that actually it was the churches who were picking up the baton really….it was the churches that were feeding them washing there clothes letting them have access to shower and treating them like human beings. One church I went to was not only feeding the homeless but people on low incomes or benefits who couldn’t buy food…giving them clothes and food. Sadly but all to expected the research was not published. However I hope that people can see how those in power are too busy trying to justify their positions to help the destitute.