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Can kindness end homelessness?

July 29th 2019

Amid arguments about clearing tents off the streets and professional beggars, Victoria Winckler, Director of the Bevan Foundation, finds that ‘kindness’ is what homeless people want most of all.

As homelessness has grown, so too have debates about what people should do.  Should we give 50p or will they only spend it drugs?  Should the council clear away the ‘mess’ left by a homeless person? Should the police arrest people begging outside shops? [read on for the answers!]

In a day of debate about these and other issues at the Homeless World Cup in Cardiff yesterday, some perhaps surprising answers emerged.  We didn’t just hear the usual campaign mantras of building more social housing, new legislation or changing benefit rules, important though they are.

One answer is simple, human behaviour – be kind.

By kindness, people didn’t mean headline-grabbing, ostentatious acts like paying for a hotel over Christmas. It’s the unbelievably easy actions like saying hello to the homeless person you see everyday, or allowing him or her to use the office toilet, or offering to buy someone a meal.

These small acts are what homeless people themselves say would make the most difference to them.  Cymorth, the umbrella body for homelessness charities, has developed a list of the things people can do to help end homelessness. It is well worth reading and actioning.

Is kindness enough?

Being kind might help a homeless person with their immediate needs and probably makes us feel good too. But as Richard Edwards, CEO of the Huggard, pointed out in one of the Bevan Tent debates, nobody ever stopped being homeless through begging.  Long-term solutions lie in providing support, in having sufficient housing and in a benefits system that prevents rather than causes homelessness.

But for these ‘big issues’ too, kindness matters

All because some of the solutions rest with local authorities, Welsh and UK Government doesn’t mean we should give up. Decisions about the length of time people have to wait for their first Universal Credit payment were taken by people.  Decisions about whether to build social housing are taken by people. Decisions to ban homeless people from cafes are taken by people.

As Russell Hargrave told us in a debate on immigration, too often decision-makers are far removed from everyday realities. By showing decision-makers that other people care, that we care about homelessness, that we don’t want the council ‘clearing the streets’, we can help to change their minds.

And the answers to the questions?

  • yes, if you want to give money to a homeless person, do it and do it unconditionally;
  • no, do not clear away ‘mess’ that is someone’s shelter and belongings;
  • no, arresting someone simply for being homeless is inhuman.

The importance of kindness – and what people and organisations can do – will be discussed in the next Bevan Tent debate on Tuesday 30th July at 5 pm.

Victoria Winckler is director of the Bevan Foundation

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