Charles Fraser

What does the future look like for homeless people?

January 28, 2011 :: 10.38am

Homelessness continues to be a major issue in the UK. Here Charles Fraser, CEO of St Mungo’s since 1994 casts his thoughts on the future of homelessness.

A number of people have asked me recently “So what does the future look like for homeless people?”, and however much one wants to enter the New Year with a song in the heart, the truth is that it doesn’t look great – and it could turn out to be really dreadful.

Wherever one looks, local authorities are cutting services on a scale which makes a mockery of the Prime Minister’s pledge to “protect the most vulnerable in society”.

Whether they are doing so out of absolute necessity or because they enjoy practising the dark arts of commissioning, the consequence is that a track record, which took years to build up, will be torn up and thrown away.

Virtually impossible to recreate services

Once services are abolished, it is virtually impossible to recreate them. It’s an uncomfortable, challenging time and I have no confidence that, when the dust has settled, homeless people will be in a better position.

You may remember Adan. He lives in one of our south London hostels. Adan was walking by the Thames one evening towards the end of last year when he saw a young woman jump in. Without hesitating, he dived in to save her – without quite realising just how cold the river would be, and how dangerous its currents are.

Inspired by homeless people as much as others

Both of them survived. When you ask Adan about it, he is incredibly self-effacing, and with a shrug simply says that he only did what anyone would do. Maybe I move in particularly selfish or cowardly circles, but I have yet to come across anyone who has said to me, “Oh sure, I’d do that”. So it’s salutary to reflect on the rarity of selflessness, and to be reminded of how we can be inspired by a homeless person as much as by anyone else.

Fortified by that inspiration, we must try to ensure that, even if homelessness does continue to increase, the foundations are put in place for those vital services which will bring it down and keep it down. Homeless people themselves have a vital part to play in laying those foundations, and Adan’s story should serve as a constant reminder of what people can achieve.

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