"Don't Feed the Beggars"
A recent BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘Feeding the Problem’ suggests that we should NOT give food to those on the streets. It gives the impression that we can starve people into services and once there all of their problems will be solved.
I have sat with and interviewed many people who are forced to beg, I co-authored Hard Edges and have long been an advocate for linking childhood experiences to adult behaviour. I-Sphere say that the causes to complex needs are poverty and trauma. Research clearly suggests that over 80% of people with complex needs have suffered some form of childhood trauma, and yet in the 27 minutes of this programme I did not hear one reference to it and I only heard the word “trauma” used once.
Although our system is far from perfect and we still have a lot to both learn from and improve upon, we do have a system that has the Homeless Reduction Act focusing on prevention sat alongside the wide spread use of Hubs or versions of No Second Night Out. Yet still the numbers we see forced to beg or who are long term rough sleeping has, until recently, grown disproportionately to the services available.
As an ex-addict and someone who survived a childcare system (without the checks and balances that we have today), I am continually disappointed in the way the community that I come from are expected to react to the “offer” given to them. The offer rarely, if at all, includes any trauma interventions. It may include Psychologically Informed Environments or be Trauma Informed Care, both of which are great, but neither of these are trauma interventions.
Highlighting successful cases were people may have been starved into services and using these to persuade the public that they shouldn't give to people on the streets, implying that force is the answer, runs the risk of turning the public against people forced to beg, this is the last thing that we want. What we need is the system and public to recognise the causes of complex needs and addiction. We need to approach the challenge of supporting people off the streets from a place of compassion and love. It is from that place that we will recognise the trauma and I hope, leverage in the psychological support and trauma interventions that people need.
If those of us working within the system truly want to end rough sleeping then we need to be having honest and informed conversations within the system, and with the wider public, that addresses the causes of addiction and complex needs. I hope that this programme doesn't have the effect of turning people against those in our society who need our support the most.