WESTMINSTER DIARY: Gaining a better understanding of the problems the homeless face

By Sir John Redwood

Most people agree we need to do better when it comes to helping people to have a bed for the night and a roof over their heads.

There has been a rise in rough sleeping in recent years.

The Government agrees, and has provided more money and announced new initiatives to help end rough sleeping and to indeed, prevent it.

The work of the Rough Sleeping Initiative, which involves local authorities and charities, is essential to ensure that people who are sleeping rough are supported to leave the dangers of the street behind.

Government can do more to provide temporary housing for people whose lives have run into difficulties, whilst they get themselves back into work or a better routine for living on benefit whilst they seek employment.

The problem it encounters is that so often rough sleeping is not just an issue of someone short of cash or temporarily out of a job, of someone who has fallen out with their family or suffered from the cancellation of a tenancy. It is often a deeper-seated problem to do with drugs, drink, or mental health issues.

Where the person is able to engage with services it is easier for the State to offer that helping hand, and a scandal if it does not.

Where a person fears the hostel because it would require them to volunteer to get off drink or drugs, or to conform to rules they do not like, the State must decide how far to go in requiring people to leave the pavement bed.

The State has powers if the person is mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others. It has powers if there is any suggestion of disorder or criminal offences.

Each time there is a difficult judgment to be made about someone who is vulnerable and living in a way which the rest of the world worries about.

These complex cases are beyond most of us who are concerned and would like to help, which is why we expect the State to use its considerable resources and legal powers to act.

Many people do find accommodation or could find accommodation within their own network of family and friends.

There we can all help when need arises.

When a member of my family lost their job and home together, I provided them free board and lodging in my spare bedroom at home while they found another job.

After a few months they were able to take on the financial commitment of a new home. Many families do the same although not all families are in a position to do this.

Any family that has an estranged family member sleeping out could at least help the State help them, if they can no longer help them within the family.

More knowledge of the circumstances and problems of the person must be helpful to those trying to decide what measures are needed to persuade that person to go back to a life which includes a bed and bedroom.

Sir John Redwood is the MP for Wokingham.

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