Homelessness gone by 2012?

Monday, 19th April 2010 at 22:50 UTC 11 comments

I was immediately struck by the Labour pledge to end rough sleeping by 2012. Its a very commendable effort, but I do think there’s a variety of reasons why this policy needs watching; great as it would be to actually end street-homelessness by in 2 years, there could be much “devil” in the detail. Lets start with one simple observation: they want to end rough sleeping in time for the Olympics.

First of all, anyone who has followed the politics of the Olympics in recent years will know that when the “Olympic Party” comes to town, the homeless are the first to be cleared up. What Labour are doing is basically putting a positive spin on a policy that will ‘need’ implementing either way. London is, after all, the capital of rough sleeping in England, and so many people gravitate there I doubt solving it within the city is a solution that will last more than a couple of days before new people arrive.

During the Vancouver games, demonstrations took place, including a camp-based permanent protest, against the impact the event was having on housing and homelessness. In Atlanta, 96, the local council rounded up everyone sleeping rough and sent them by coach to New York, knowing it would take them too long to get back to “ruin the party”.

That Labour have come out with a policy on this is actually a good sign nonetheless. Many of these ‘clearances’ have been the subject of coverups, especially the most violent of all, in which police in Mexico City effectively carried out a ‘cull’ of street children, much like the Athenian police culled 15,000 stray dogs in 2004. In stating a public policy, rather than just ‘sweeping the problem under the carpet’, Labour is much more committed to tackle the problem equitably.

But that doesn’t make action taken on homelessness less likely to be against the interests of the homeless themselves. After all, daily police harassment, and in the case of City of London Police, spraying cold water on people’s belongings and safest available sleeping spaces, are all common amongst the experiences of today’s homeless people. In our haste to look like the problem is solved, it is instead driven underground, official figures being fiddled and police acting to disrupt reporting during independent counts like the Simon Community’s “Head Count” – an event that has to be kept secret until the night it happens just to stop the police carrying out a wave of arrests to lower the figures, which usually double on “official statistics”.

There is also the problem of definitions. Rough sleeping, or rooflessness, or street-homelessness is not the same as homelessness. Someone might be sleeping on a friend’s couch for free; they’re still homeless. Squatters might be counted as homeless, but are certainly not “rough sleepers”. There are also other problems, such as whether arresting someone for vagrancy removes them from the rough sleeping statistics. Its an important question, because criminalising rough sleeping is not the same as resolving it, even if it technically “ends” it.

There is essentially a split in motivations for dealing with the homeless, and it does make the whole thing an electoral minefield; is the aim to help the homeless or remove the eyesores from the doorways? Is it to deal with poverty, or push it out of sight? If Labour want a future fair for all, they need to pick the harder, more expensive and more complex options. This policy shows willingness to engage, but its how its implemented that will matter to those left on the streets.


Entry filed under: Britain, Elections, Labour Party, News, Olympics, Party Politics, Police, Poverty.

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg  |  Monday, 19th April 2010 at 23:16 UTC

    Here, my cynicismm wins out. This isnt’ going to happen.
    I’ll bet you £50 that I see at least one homeless person in 2012. Accept?

    • 2. Graham Martin  |  Monday, 19th April 2010 at 23:28 UTC

      I’m sure there will be homeless people during 2012, its whether they’ll exist in London during the Olympic fortnight, and what will happen to them.

      • 3. Greg  |  Tuesday, 20th April 2010 at 17:16 UTC

        Oh dear, I spot two typos in that last comment!

    • 4. Helen  |  Tuesday, 20th April 2010 at 17:56 UTC

      Any homeless person, or just a rough sleeper? Will you ask them if they’re homeless or just assume?

      • 5. Lois  |  Wednesday, 21st April 2010 at 13:14 UTC

        For goodness’ sake, Greg, what does a typo have to do with the argument?
        And in case you hadn’t noticed, you’re not the only sceptical one, but would you rather the question wasn’t addressed and continued to be swept under the carpet? This post isn’t exactly Labour propaganda.

  • 6. tiggs  |  Tuesday, 20th April 2010 at 12:47 UTC

    I have just drafted a huge long post about homelessness, London and the Olympics.
    Then I realised I can boil it all down to:
    “Pull the other one, it have got bells on it”

    And that is my considered response to this initiative.


  • 7. Greg  |  Wednesday, 21st April 2010 at 16:32 UTC

    Lois, I was commenting about my own comment (cynicismm and isnt’). Note it was posted 6 hours before Graham’s reply.

    Where did I say Graham’s post was Labour propaganda? Do you think I was slapping him down or something?

    • 8. Helen  |  Friday, 23rd April 2010 at 16:00 UTC

      It was posted 17 hours after Graham’s comment, Greg 🙂

      • 9. Greg  |  Friday, 23rd April 2010 at 22:05 UTC

        Touche! I was still replying to myself though, not Graham.

      • 10. Graham Martin  |  Saturday, 24th April 2010 at 23:07 UTC

        People who hang around the web replying to their own comments are usually thought of as sad. Just thought I’d throw that into the mix.

  • 11. Greg  |  Sunday, 25th April 2010 at 15:26 UTC

    Well y’know Graham, I spend so much time criticizing your SPaG that I thought I should hold myself to the same standard.


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