Scally Mag explains why Change Liverpool’s campaign surrounding homelessness is problematic…
A homeless campaign has been launched in Liverpool which suggests that people should stop giving money directly to rough sleepers and people experiencing entrenched homelessness.
Change Liverpool are heading up the movement and believe that the public should donate money to their community fund- as opposed to directly giving it to homeless people- as they feel it can be used more effectively in tackling some of the issues faced by rough sleepers.
This initiative is another that can be added to the long list of vanity projects that we have seen across the city, which create the illusion of tackling the deeply complex issue of homelessness. Giving out butties, coffees, and coats is great. But don’t act like you’re reinventing the wheel. The campaign is playing the blame game, and has homeless people firmly at the centre of it.
People experiencing homelessness often have multiple complex needs which require person specific support, along with a wrap-around approach from multiple agencies including health and social care, addiction services, and mental health services.
To suggest that putting our spare change in a community fund, as opposed to giving it directly to somebody, and thinking that this will reduce the chances of people living on the street, or that their experience on the street will be any better, is extremely naïve, misleading and patronising.
Homeless people are some of the most resilient and resourceful people in society, and if the stereotype and stigma that Change Liverpool is reinforcing is to be true, then drugs and alcohol will not magically disappear from the lives of those on the street if we put money in your community fund. They will certainly find another way to go down this road. This ideology helps nobody.
One of the issues we have in society is that we fall into the trap of assuming the actions and voices of vulnerable communities are monolithic. Change Liverpool have very much plummeted into the trap, some may argue purposely, to get people to donate to their community fund.
There are sections of the homeless community that don’t take drugs and are not suffering from addiction. Where does this exclusionary approach leave them? Why should they be subjected to ideologies that impact them when their situation differs? The lack of agency and autonomy for vulnerable people to make their own decisions is problematic.
The homelessness epidemic needs strategic investment and collaborative support structures, coupled with commitment and unequivocal buy-in from social landlords to create a clear pathway from the street to a tenancy. Barriers need to be removed surrounding the finer details when accessing a tenancy such as identification and references. Housing is a human right, and nobody should be required to demonstrate they are ‘ready’ to be off the street.
It is a worry that these smaller homeless projects such as Change Liverpool are not pushing and advocating for the necessary strategic approach to tackle homelessness, and instead are dehumanising and criminalising the very people they are supposed to be helping through their approach. There is far too much energy being put into the absurd notion that all homeless people can’t be trusted with money.
A complete overhaul of attitudes to homelessness is needed, along with a shift in how we organise a resistance to the issue. Research suggests that a harm-reduction approach to those experiencing homelessness is the most effective way in working towards ending rough sleeping.
It is refreshing to see the Housing First pilot, which uses harm reduction as one of its core principles, supporting people off the street and into long-term tenancies. Energy needs to be put towards ensuring that central government continue to fund such successful schemes which use methods that don’t defame society’s most vulnerable.
Addiction and other issues that encompass elements of homelessness require specific and tailored approaches. Projects such as Change Liverpool and the approach they are taking is one that negatively affects those in need, creates division, reinforces stereotypes, and reduces the homelessness epidemic to individualism as opposed to that of a structural and systemic one. Never target the vulnerable. Target those with the power to implement change.