NEWS COMMENT: Let us see a city-wide bid to help the homeless

A meeting of the Churches Homesless Action group in St Mary's Church. Picture: Keith Woodland
A meeting of the Churches Homesless Action group in St Mary's Church. Picture: Keith Woodland
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Nobody who has been in the middle of Portsmouth – or indeed probably any English town or city recently – can fail to have noticed the increase in homelessness.

We’ve seen tents on Commercial Road, tents struck in car parks, and encampments in shop doorways, sometimes including furniture. It’s shocking to see so many people who have slipped through the safety net of the state, which should help those in need.

At times it seems we are back to the bad old days of the 1980s, when people walked past Cardboard City on the south bank in London and accepted it as a fact of life. It didn’t have to be like that though, as homelessness – at least the visible, rough-sleeping type – gradually and thankfully diminished over time but now is sadly more prevalent.

So the more attention brought to the subject the better. We wish those helping the homeless all the best, and commend their humanity.

But there’s a split opening up. On the one hand, several groups in Portsmouth have gone out to feed those on the streets, often offering temporary soup kitchens in Guildhall Square. Their good intent cannot be faulted, but today we report that it is believed that these well-intentioned handouts are only attracting people to Portsmouth as they know there is a food on offer. This in turn means that the services that should be able to cope with those in need in the city cannot do so – and so exacerbates the problem.

However, from the point of view of those on the ground, it is easy to see why taking direct action seems to be the only way to help others, when from the top down, government and council money is in short supply, benefits are being cut and help is scarce. In the age of austerity, you do often have to do it yourself.

We do not want to see an impasse between the church-led group we report on today and the more grassroots organisations we have often reported on previously. Let us hope that we can have a fully unified city-wide effort to help rough sleepers. The most important thing is that we help our fellow man.