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Homelessness; it’s not what you think.

This is a repost of archived material from a few months ago in response to a sudden surge in homeless press. Press that sadly continued to perpetuate the idea that society is naughty for mistreating the poor and vulnerable.


I have to point out that this is not a statement that reflects or acts on behalf of any agency and is purely my own speculative opinion.

Do not give money to homeless people or homeless charities. Give clothing and toiletries directly to mens’ shelters. Why?

The front page of the BelTel brought up the issue of panhandling which is often conflated with the issue of homelessness because they oft go hand in hand. This issue was also discussed this morning on Nolan and the usual arguments were put forward.

Let me make a few points. Notably, Kris Nixon was invited on as a regular commentator who has experienced homelessness as a young person due to difficult family circumstances to add weight to the argument. I’ve read Kris’ story and have great personal empathy for his situation but it does not qualify him to speak with experience about what is classified as at-risk homeless and unfortunately, he makes the same mistakes that everyone else does by assuming there’s an issue here that can be resolved.

Numerous callers made the same point again and again about there being an issue with society. Homelessness is entirely over exaggerated. This is not America. We have incredibly strong protection for at-risk homeless individuals because it’s a legacy of the troubles that birthed the NIHE’s emergency protections remit. If you become homeless and are identified as being at risk you will be given accommodation within 24 hours. You will never spend a night on the streets on Belfast unless you have chosen to do so.

At this very moment of writing there are 19 at risk homeless in the entirety of (greater) Belfast. I have over time had dealings with the at-risk homeless on the streets of Belfast. These are individuals who are beyond the help of any agency. These are individuals whose lives have been forfeit for the choices they have made, however, tragic they may be. These at-risk individuals are often expelled from emergency accommodation because they break the rules on drugs and alcohol. They attack staff and they piss away their chances time and again.

I have great admiration for the many teams that try to prevent death on the streets due to homelessness and protect those who have nowhere to be in the day time but the liberal guilt individuals feel does not qualify them as an expert on people’s lives because they hand sleeping bags out three times a month. You’re not helping, in fact, you are hindering the process of keeping people off the street by making it easier for them to remain where they are. I have had direct problems with an agency who refused to listen to police advice and cause an individual to abscond who still remains missing to this day.

Those who stay on the streets are people who have turned their backs on society. So often people condemn and join in with their Facebook likes and drop 50p into a charity box like they are making a difference. If those who are so vocal are happy to take them in then do so but then you’ll experience the true problem.

It is not illegal to be homeless. It is not illegal to not have a job. It’s not in anyone’s interest to arrest them either. Kris Nixon decried the Urban Myth of the Romanian sellers on the streets in their mystery minivans. Sorry Kris but it’s real and we can’t do a damn thing about it. I’ve witnessed them coaching their children to hold Ireland’s Issues while waiting to be moved. I’ve witnessed acts of kindness and clothing donations to be set aside as this makes them not look quite so homeless anymore. It’s a game and one that liberal guilt is forcing us to lose. We must take a real actioned stance on homelessness by acknowledging that it’s really not as big a problem as people would have you think.

Now that we’ve dealt with what’s considered homeless the original issue of panhandling is frankly an issue that’s up to one individual’s conscience. Again Kris brought up the idea that we could be starving those who are truly in need and this is evidence of his lack of experience in the matter. The fact is there are so many fabulous agencies out there that mean those with no fixed abode will never suffer adverse harm by co-operating with these agencies.

While I admire the kindness behind ideas like the portable shelters and homeless boxes they are ideas designed by artists with overinflated senses of self with no other aim but to attract publicity. A chippy hands out a cup of chips for 30 minutes every Wednesday and it’s being splashed about the Belfast Live with headline news for four days. So many people have taken full advantage of a greatly exaggerated issue.

The true reality of panhandling is that it’s a very easy and quick way to make money because we are a guilty people who are made to feel empathic from birth. We’re all human and we see someone apparently in need. We ignore the facts, the advice and the clear guidance of professionals and continue to donate. Carmel from the show today argued again and again with Jim Rodgers about her righteous indignation that we’re trying to ignore it and Kris referred to it as PR.

It’s not. If a group of doctors and surgeons told you ABC you’d never argue XYZ and carry on doing it and if you do you’re making the problem worse and nobody else is.

The reality of homelessness is it’s an issue for groups and agencies to make money, to make people feel better about themselves by donating and for those who turn to drink, drugs or escape their problems by living on the street.

Those individuals who show up on the street are recognised very quickly by experienced workers and police officers and are quickly taken off the streets by amazing teams like the SOS Bus, Simon Community and Welcome. Please heed the advice and stop giving cash in the street. Accept that help is there, in the background, and they know it.

If you TRULY want to help the best thing you can do is provide ambient foods, water, clothing and other gifts and bring them straight into centres. A gift of adult male clothing will be gladly accepted at the reception centres of almost all the hostels’ in Belfast.

If you want to see what true homelessness looks like I advise you to visit Queen Street in Belfast one afternoon. Do those people look troubled to you? So often people have their help rejected because they are trying to put perspective on a situation which is toxic.

Sadly, there will always be people who simply want to drink or drug themselves to death no matter how much help they have. Many of our at-risk homeless have families desperate for their loved ones to come back but they are beyond hope. That’s not anyone’s fault but the individual who makes that choice.

Stop giving to panhandling. Stop exacerbating the issues in people’s lives by giving them the chance to stay on the streets.

Don

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