Monday, 22 March 2010

Spare Some Change?

Over the last few weeks, a couple of articles in The Hampshire Chronicle have caught my eye, regarding raising awareness about homelessness. Now, admittedly this is not an issue I contemplate often, however it is an issue most of us will come face to face with every day.

When walking down the street, if you see a man or woman sat on the side of the pavement asking for money, do you walk by, completely ignoring them? Politely tell them you have no spare change? Or do you search your purse or wallet for any loose coins you can give them? I will admit I mostly go for option two, but why? What is it, when confronted with a homeless person that makes us so reluctant to help?

I believe many people attach stereotypes to homeless people and this creates fear because we do not understand how a person has come to be in that situation. We assume if we give them money, it may only go on cigarettes and alcohol or something wholly unbeneficial. I was in town with a friend not so long ago, and we walked past a man sitting on the pavement, he looked up at us and before he could even say anything, my friend told him she had no money (and actually after that, he said he was only going to ask for her gloves, to which she also answered no!) but my point is we seem so unwilling to help.

The first of the articles I read in The Hampshire Chronicle was relating to a poetry competition, aimed at raising awareness about homelessness. The competition was organised by Winchester Churches Nightshelter in Jewry Street. It saw more than 150 entries from local schools, councillors and homeless people themselves. The poetry entries were then categorised by age and a winner picked from each category. Over 200 people turned up to hear the winners be announced by the city Mayor, Cllr Dominic Hiscock.

By launching a poetry competition, it appeals to all ages and I feel it is especially effective for school children in making them think about the matter and having to find a way to describe it. It is something worth talking about, not something we should all be keeping closed mouthed about, or the problem will surely worsen.

The second article that caught my eye was about a fund raising event for Winchester’s homeless charities; Trinity Winchester, Winchester Churches Nightshelter, and Keystone. I used this story in my radio bulletin last week. The Rotary Club of Winchester is encouraging residents to take part in a walk around the local area for £10 per person, or £20 for a group of five or more. The money raised will then be directly donated to the above listed charities.

It is events like this which need more publicity, so people become aware of the affect of homelessness and how it can be eased.

I asked Martin Tod (Liberal Democrat potential MP for Winchester, I’m sure you all know who he is by now!) whether he felt enough was being done by the government and local political parties or whether the issue was best left to charities to deal with, and quite simply what needs to be done to help and by whom.

“Well there’s an awful lot that the council does and you know there’s a lot we want to do to get more houses into circulation and there’s an awful lot of empty homes, even in Winchester that we think should be used to house people but there are a lot of people waiting on the housing waiting list at the moment so part of what’s needed is that we are going to need to build more houses and build more social houses, so absolutely that’s a real priority for us.”

Well, of course creating more houses is the obvious solution, but how would this be funded? And it’s all well and good refurbishing empty houses for the homeless, but how would they continue to afford it.

This is an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed with a wider scheme. But for now it looks like most of the pressure to aid the situation lies with charities. This is something I definitely need and want to look into further to see what is being done on a wider scale.

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