On the 29th of May at the Mount Zion Community Church, The Future Melting Pot attended the 2019 LOUD Conference’s ‘Town Hall Experience’. The event was comprised of a six-person panel debating incredibly important societal issues affecting the community, with a healthy dose of audience participation along with it.
The panel, excellently mediated by Nikki Tapper of BBC WM Radio, included Derrick Campbell, Assistant Police and Crime Commissioner Ashley Bertie, Councillor Sharon Thompson, Ophelia Gayle, Dr Joe Aldred and Bishop Wayne Ballakistan.
The Value of Conversation in the Community
The conversation kicked off with a discussion around community. Specifically, what does community mean to them? Why is it so important? There were a number of salient remarks invoking such key phrases as unity, responsibility, power, and of course, family. However, we particularly liked Ashley Bertie’s observation, that “communities are a rich tapestry of different talents.”
That is why conversations within the community are so important. Events such as this are a great way to bring different skills and talents together and help develop the potential for unifying said talents for a common purpose or goal.
Which Issues Were Debated?
The main body of conversation was formed around three key social issues – homelessness, mental health, and knife crime.
At The Future Melting Pot, we have recently gained a very specific focus on the issue of homelessness and indeed our very own Estella Edwards was given the chance to ask the panel a question on this issue. However, the separate issues of mental health and knife crime are also inherently linked, and we thought it interesting that many of the root causes identified (as well as the solutions offered), were the same for each issue.
What Did We Learn?
The beauty of bringing together so many different people, with different voices informed by different experiences, is that everyone is able to learn something. We felt that the debate raised some really interesting points on what role ‘the church’ can play in an attempt to address these issues, as well as differing viewpoints on where much of the responsibility for resolutions rested.
However, we felt that the most important point that rose from the conference was the need for collaboration and alignment between groups, churches and local authorities within a wider strategy for Birmingham.
The Next Steps
We at The Future Melting Pot are more than willing to defend the value of dialogue, but as one audience member pointed out, dialogue can only get you so far. “Where are we going from this meeting? What are the next steps?” she asked.
This is exactly what we at The Future Melting Pot want to know, and that is why we are hosting our own Homelessness Conference on the 19th of June, which you can register for here.
The aim of this conference is to bring together all the different organizations working to combat homelessness – whether that be local volunteer groups, faith groups, or local authorities – so that we can bring about an alignment of the common practices and formulate a city-wide strategy. We believe that by effectively utilizing the resources we have, and by bringing together the currently unconnected network striving to fight homelessness in the city, we can find a way of successfully addressing this issue.
The Future Melting Pot believes in utilising evidence-based approaches to tackle complex social issues. Homelessness is one of the social issues that we are interested in and we have partnered up with Homeless Rooms Birmingham in recent months.
Homeless Rooms Birmingham was launched on 17th April at the South & City College campus in Digbeth. Homeless Rooms Birmingham consists of a platform which aims to connect homeless room seekers with social landlords. It was launched alongside the Geoff Horsfield Foundation, a foundation launched by Geoff Horsfield, a former footballer.
The event begun with a networking session where attendees mingled with one another. It then continued with a panel consisting of the founders of Homeless Rooms Birmingham, Mark Peters and Lee Blake, Alan Fraser, CEO of YMCA Birmingham, and Geoff Horsfield, founder of The Geoff Horsfield Foundation.
The team at The Future Melting Pot has worked tirelessly to make the launch event a success. We have published a social impact report about the Homeless Rooms Birmingham platform as well as set up a fundraising page.
On the 13th August, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government James Brokenshire unveiled his department’s Rough Sleeping Strategy, reiterating the government’s commitment to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and to end it completely by 2027. While the headline figure of £100m has somewhat unravelled in the past 24 hours, with Brokenshire forced to admit that half of the money had already been committed to tackling homelessness and no new funds have been invested from outside his department’s existing budgets, the intention to act demonstrated by the announcement has been welcomed by homelessness charities. Housing and homelessness organisations that are part of the government’s Rough Sleeping Advisory Group (including Crisis, Homeless Link, Shelter and others) released a joint statement yesterday praising in particular ‘the new funding commitment for dedicated outreach teams and for emergency bed spaces’, observing that these measures will ‘make a real difference to people’s lives’. However, these organisations were clear that they regarded this announcement as just the start of the battle against homelessness, calling for ‘bold, cross-departmental plans to tackle the root causes of all forms of homelessness, and prevent it from happening in the first place’. The CEOs of Shelter, Crisis and St Basils appeared separately on the BBC News following the announcement, and all similarly called for a holistic strategy that focused on prevention, specifically the provision of more social housing and what Jean Templeton of St Basils referred to as a ‘national housing strategy’.
This focus on prevention and on the wider problem of homelessness outside the headline issue of rough sleeping (referred to by Local Government Association chairman Lord Porter as ‘only the tip of the iceberg’ of the homelessness crisis) reflects the recent direction of thought within the homelessness sector. Government figures demonstrate that a total of 123,130 children were housed in temporary accommodation in England in the first quarter of 2018. Even more people affected by homelessness make up the so-called ‘hidden homeless’, those who have not approached or received help from local authorities: including those staying in over-crowded housing. often characterised by people ‘couch-surfing’ at friends’ or relatives’. This form of homelessness particularly affects young people, who are disproportionately likely to be homeless anyway. Indeed, as a youth-focused organisation, the Future Melting Pot would draw attention to the fact, highlighted by charity Homeless Link, that roughly half of the individuals who access homelessness services in England are young people between the ages of 18-24.
While organisations such as Shelter and Crisis continue to attempt to change the narrative around the homeless and highlight the huge number of people in the country affected by homelessness (with Shelter estimating last year that 1 in every 200 people in the UK were homeless), some of the reporting of the government’s plan has perhaps been somewhat irresponsible, and inadvertently strengthened existing stereotypes around what kind of people face homelessness. For example, the government has pledged £30m to provide targeted support to rough sleepers facing mental health difficulties relating to substance misuse, with Brokenshire highlighting the illegal drug Spice as a particular cause for concern in an interview with The Times. In both The Times, the BBC News and the Guardian it has been reported that ‘researchers estimate between 90-95% of homeless people in Manchester smoke the drug (Spice)’. The BBC quotes Julie Boyle of the charity LifeShare as believing that ‘between 95% and 98% [of her clients] are smoking Spice in some form’. Boyle also observed that ‘It’s very, very unusual to find a young person who’s homeless in city centre Manchester who isn’t taking Spice’. LifeShare’s work with these highly vulnerable people is vital, and there is no doubt that they save many lives.
The Spice epidemic is clearly a vital and pressing issue, and the government is absolutely right to invest in mental health services to help homeless people break their addiction to this dangerous and potentially fatal drug. However, there is a danger that the media’s use of statistics such as ’90-95% of homeless people in Manchester smoke the drug’ misleads the public. Firstly, this phrase falls into the trap of equating rough-sleepers with all homeless people, when it is widely acknowledged that rough sleepers form only a small minority of the total homeless population (with figures from Shelter from April last year suggesting that rough sleepers made up just 4,500 of a wider homeless population of over 300,000 in Britain). Secondly, it plays into stereotypes about homeless people as being overwhelmingly drug addicts. While addiction is a huge issue among the UK’s homelessness population, it is just one of very many factors that contribute to people experiencing homelessness. Public understanding of homeless people would improve if media outlets were careful to use the correct language when referring to homeless people in different situations. Not only would this reduce stereotyping and the ‘othering’ of the homeless, it would also raise awareness of the fact that the homelessness crisis affects a far wider section of the population than perhaps most people think. This could only generate momentum around the efforts of charities such as Shelter and Crisis to lobby for wider strategies to tackle the root causes of homelessness for a sustainable solution to this national crisis.
In March of this year (2018), the Birmingham Mail published an interview with Tracey Patterson of Birmingham’s Homeless Support Team (BHST). Tracey observed that 2018 has been ‘the worse year yet’ in terms of rough sleeping (link to the article here: https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/homelessness-worst-ever-been-birmingham-14437159).
What is also notable is that Tracey had ‘never seen so many young people on the streets’ as well. BHST, which Tracey set up alongside her husband Barrington, are a local charity which give out emergency supplies of essentials to rough sleepers in the city. Organisations such as BHST are at the front-line of the city’s homelessness crisis, and are some of the best placed people to give early warning to statutory organisations and wider society. At The Future Melting Pot, we are always eager to gather information from sources that work face-to-face with homeless people. Our forthcoming research project on will centre the experiences of young homeless people themselves and those who interact with them most closely. This is arguably the best way to ensure that policy reflects peoples’ lived experiences.
Organisations such as BHST should be applauded for the work they do, often without the recognition or funding of larger charities. They are on twitter @BhamHST
This April, we were lucky to host two MSc from Aston University. During this time they produced two reports for The Future Melting pot regarding different projects we are undertaking.
The first of which was a literature on Homelessness produced by Ian Han Leow:
Ian Han Leow is an intern at TFMP who is currently enrolled in the MSc Business and Management course at Aston University. His interests include chess, badminton and travelling. He hopes to travel the world and to experience and learn about different cultures.
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