Charities exacerbate homelessness, says Big Issue founder
Homelessness charities were today accused of worsening the problem they were set up to solve by ‘mollycoddling’ homeless people.
In a bruising attack on the ‘homelessness industry’ John Bird, the founder of the Big Issue magazine, complained of a ‘surfeit of liberalism and indulgence’ from charities in the sector. Speaking at a summit on homelessness organised by the Conservative party, Mr Bird said: ‘We have indulged homeless people to such an extent that they stay too long with us than they need.’
Describing himself as a ‘self-appointed spokesman for the homeless’, he added: ‘The problem for the homelessness industry is how you get rid of homeless people, once they are with you. How do we move people on.’
Mr Bird acknowledged that some charities had recognised this but he complained that there were still too many agencies working with homeless people. ‘There’s an enormous amount of duplication and wasted resources,’ he said.
He also called for more discipline in homeless hostels. ‘We have a crisis of leadership in homelessness. We have to stop mollycoddling homeless people. I will not have badly behaved homeless people any where near me. I give them the opportunity of growing up and moving on.’
He added: ‘A lot of homeless organisations never give people the opportunity of growing up and looking after themselves.’
Mr Bird, a former rough sleeper himself, also criticised members of the public for giving money to beggars. ‘My big beef is that I think homeless people are kept homeless by the generosity of the public. That generosity gives people hope, we don’t give them opportunity.’
He said efforts to tackle homelessness should shift from ‘oxygenating failure’ to preventing the problem in the first place. ‘Someone at some stage has to put some big bucks into prevention, because the bath is filling up faster than it is being emptied,’ Mr Bird said.
Responding for homelessness charities, Robina Rafferty, the chief executive of Housing Justice, pointed out that it was difficult for homeless people to move away from charity-run hostels because of a shortage of housing.
‘We are not putting enough resources into affordable housing. Unless we tackle that we will continue to have a cycle of homelessness,’ she said.
Launching the event, the shadow local government and communities secretary, Caroline Spelman, supported calls for an audit of so-called ‘hidden homelessness’.
‘We know that official numbers are lower than reality. Before I took this job I was not aware just how serious the problem has become,’ she said.
She also pledged to make homelessness a priority in this parliamentary session.