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Opinion: The Lib Dem Approach to Helping the Homeless

Published on: 8 Feb, 2019
Updated on: 10 Feb, 2019

This is the latest in a series of opinion pieces from the political groups which currently form Guildford Borough Council (GBC) during the period running up to the next borough council elections in May 2019. All previous articles in the series can be found here.

We are grateful to all the participants for agreeing to take part. Our aim is to allow our readers to hear from local politicians directly and become better informed of the political choice they have…

Lib Dem councillor Fiona White

By Fiona White

county councillor for Guildford West

The recent brutally cold weather caused residents deep concern for homeless people on the icy streets of Guildford.

The borough council swiftly invoked the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP) and, partnered with community groups, tackled the task of offering hot food, clothing and warm refuge. Those who wanted were given shelter, a few in bed and breakfast places outside the borough, and hostels and night shelters extended their hours.

Homelessness is rising every year across the country, as are deaths of rough sleepers and crimes against them. It is no exaggeration to say we have a homelessness crisis.

The Liberal Democrat MP, Layla Moran (Oxford), is championing a national movement to repeal the outdated Vagrancy Act of 1824. This law criminalises and dehumanises rough sleepers, making them “a problem to be solved” rather than recognising them as individuals with rights and needs.

A rough sleeper in North Street

The second reading of Ms Moran’s Private Member’s bill is due later this month followed by its first debate. But will the Conservative government support the bill? You’d hope so given they claim to be committed to halving rough sleeping by 2020 and eliminate it by 2027. Sadly, across their party, Dickensian attitudes remain and there are some who would gladly lock up rough sleepers.

Unfortunately, a similar mixed attitude towards homelessness is apparent here in Guildford.

Every homeless person is contacted by a member of GBC’s homeless outreach support team (HOST) or Guildford Action and offered help and support. Sadly, some won’t accept help because of mental health problems or can’t get a hostel bed because of drug or alcohol addictions. Local night shelters also insist on everyone staying inside overnight from 6pm to 10am. For some who have been on the streets for a long time, it isn’t possible to accept being locked in.

A one-size-fits-all approach is easy but does not work in reality. That is why Guildford Liberal Democrats are pushing for a new type of hostel that is more flexible so more rough sleepers can be helped out of their situation.

A council-backed campaign is currently running adverts encouraging people not to give money to homeless and beggars on the streets, so far a laudable aim. But the wording on the posters dehumanises the vulnerable with “Don’t contribute to the problem.” Problem? Why not recognise the people who are suffering with positive words such as “Help us to stop the suffering.”

Homelessness can happen to anyone. It is not a positive choice. We must realise there is much more that needs to be done to tackle it locally and nationally.

Guildford Liberal Democrats are determined to push hard for real, positive changes on homelessness. We are committed to:

  • Tackling the social and affordable housing crisis by building 3,000 new social homes in Guildford over the next ten years;
  • Providing new, more flexible hostel types to support more homeless people in ways that meet their individual situation; and
  • Supporting the Bill to scrap the Vagrancy Act that criminalises and dehumanises vulnerable individuals sleeping rough.

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