[Hpn] A home for the homeless

William C. Tinker wtinker@verizon.net
Sun, 16 Dec 2007 06:07:10 -0500


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December 15, 2007

A home for the homeless
Rent a few flats, then let them free to those sleeping rough. It works =
in America, so why not here?
Kit Malthouse=20
Every Christmas we see two warring camps loosing a volley of accusations =
at each other. The cause: what to do about rough sleepers. Make no =
mistake, this debate is a matter of life and death. Life expectancy on =
the street is as low as 42.=20

On one side stand some London boroughs and homeless charities who feel =
that the plentiful volunteer soup runs in the capital serve only to keep =
people on the streets. Opposing them are Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of =
London, and other charities, who argue that trying to make such soup =
runs illegal is cold-hearted and will lead to starvation. But both sides =
have missed the potential of one novel ? some might say outrageous ? =
solution tested in America.

Ten years ago the rough sleeping population in England was more than =
2,000 a night. Since then a combination of government focus, lots of =
money and greater co-operation between boroughs and charities has caused =
these numbers to fall by two thirds. Most new arrivals today will spend =
fewer than four nights on the street, and it's vital to keep that number =
low. After living rough for more than a couple of weeks, habits are =
formed, addictions are acquired or exacerbated and rescue becomes even =
more difficult.

In London we are now down to the familiar hardcore cases who have =
refused so far to be helped. But these chronic rough sleepers are a =
tough group to help. The likes of Ed Mitchell, the former ITN presenter, =
driven on to the streets by huge debts is a rarity. Most are casualties =
of encounters with the State (60 per cent have either been in care, the =
Army, prison or all three), 70 per cent have mental health problems, 80 =
per cent have a drink or a drugs problem. Suspicious, paranoid and often =
irrational, they live a chaotic and brutal life, one 35 times more =
likely to end in suicide.=20

Getting them inside is a drawn-out process of contact, familiarisation, =
flattery and persuasion, the assumption being that the system that has =
worked well thus far should work for these remaining hard cases; we just =
need to work harder on them. This logic is flawed. Instead, we need a =
radical new approach.=20

In the New Yorker last year, Malcolm Gladwell maintained that chronic =
homelessness is a problem that can be abolished, not merely managed, =
because in the end it can be reduced to solving a few hard cases. When =
you do the maths, he says, the answer becomes clear: just give them a =
house.

In a number of cities across the United States, they are doing the =
maths. They discovered to their astonishment that leaving rough sleepers =
on the street costs a fortune. In Boston a study found that a group of =
119 rough sleepers had been admitted to hospital 18,834 times in five =
years at the cost of $32,000 each a year. In San Diego a similar =
exercise with 15 of their homeless revealed a bill of $3 million over an =
18-month period. In Reno, Nevada, one ten-year veteran rough sleeper had =
cost the city a cool $1 million with absolutely no improvement to his =
way of life.

In St Louis, Missouri, they went one step farther. Abandoning the usual =
approach to rough sleepers, where permanent housing is seen as the goal =
of rehabilitation, the city authorities decided to make housing the =
first step on the journey back to normality, not the last. They simply =
rented some apartments, approached their hardest cases, gave them the =
keys to their own free homes, and showed them how to get there. No =
strings, no process, no hassle. It worked. The toughest of vagrants =
started coming inside.

Of course it isn't quite that simple. With the litany of problems, =
physical and mental, that assail the majority of rough sleepers, huge =
amounts of support are needed to maintain a life inside. But how much =
better and cheaper to support and manage their needs indoors than out. =
And boy, do we have the skills to do that.=20

Over the past ten years, local authorities, charities and church groups =
have become masters at keeping people indoors once they get there, but =
it's getting the last few through the door that is the problem.

The logjam could be broken and the warring factions reunited by doing =
exactly what the Americans are doing: giving away homes free to chronic =
rough sleepers, and then working to keep them indoors.=20

Are you spluttering "Just give them a flat?! The same flat I have to =
work all week to pay for? Are you mad?!"?

If the moral argument that we have a duty to the unfortunate doesn't =
sway you, then the economics might. In Britain, though, the maths is =
hard to do. Government direct spending on rough sleepers is hidden =
within general housing grants and we have absolutely no idea what burden =
this small, troubled group places upon the NHS. Throw in local authority =
spending, and the budgets of the many homeless charities, and my rough =
estimate puts the number at anything up to =A330,000 a year for each =
rough sleeper: enough to rent a one-bed flat in Chelsea and pay the =
minimum full-time wage, and have change left over.

Whatever the exact number, it should be big enough to shock you. Perhaps =
big enough that we might cut our losses and give rough sleepers the =
homes that save us money, and that might just save their lives.

Kit Malthouse is a Conservative candidate for the London Assembly=20

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<DIV class=3D"small color-666">December 15, 2007<BR></DIV>
<DIV class=3Dclear-simple></DIV>
<H1 class=3Dheading>A home for the homeless</H1>
<H2 class=3D"sub-heading padding-top-5 padding-bottom-15">Rent a few =
flats, then=20
let them free to those sleeping rough. It works in America, so why not=20
here?</H2><!-- END: Module - Main Heading -->
<DIV id=3Dregion-column1-layout2><!--CMA user Call Diffrenet Variation =
Of Image --><!-- BEGIN: Module - M24 Article Headline with no image (a) =
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<DIV id=3Dmain-article>
<DIV class=3Darticle-author><!-- Print Author name from By Line =
associated with the article --><SPAN=20
class=3Dsmall></SPAN><SPAN class=3Dbyline>Kit Malthouse </SPAN>
<DIV class=3Dclear></DIV></DIV></DIV><!-- END: Module - M24 Article =
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Print the body of the article--><!-- Pagination -->
<P>Every Christmas we see two warring camps loosing a volley of =
accusations at=20
each other. The cause: what to do about rough sleepers. Make no mistake, =
this=20
debate is a matter of life and death. Life expectancy on the street is =
as low as=20
42. </P>
<P>On one side stand some London boroughs and homeless charities who =
feel that=20
the plentiful volunteer soup runs in the capital serve only to keep =
people on=20
the streets. Opposing them are Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, and =
other=20
charities, who argue that trying to make such soup runs illegal is =
cold-hearted=20
and will lead to starvation. But both sides have missed the potential of =
one=20
novel &#65533; some might say outrageous &#65533; solution tested in =
America.</P>
<P>Ten years ago the rough sleeping population in England was more than =
2,000 a=20
night. Since then a combination of government focus, lots of money and =
greater=20
co-operation between boroughs and charities has caused these numbers to =
fall by=20
two thirds. Most new arrivals today will spend fewer than four nights on =
the=20
street, and it's vital to keep that number low. After living rough for =
more than=20
a couple of weeks, habits are formed, addictions are acquired or =
exacerbated and=20
rescue becomes even more difficult.</P>
<P>In London we are now down to the familiar hardcore cases who have =
refused so=20
far to be helped. But these chronic rough sleepers are a tough group to =
help.=20
The likes of Ed Mitchell, the former ITN presenter, driven on to the =
streets by=20
huge debts is a rarity. Most are casualties of encounters with the State =
(60 per=20
cent have either been in care, the Army, prison or all three), 70 per =
cent have=20
mental health problems, 80 per cent have a drink or a drugs problem. =
Suspicious,=20
paranoid and often irrational, they live a chaotic and brutal life, one =
35 times=20
more likely to end in suicide. </P><!--#include =
file=3D"m63-article-related-attachements.html"-->
<P>Getting them inside is a drawn-out process of contact, =
familiarisation,=20
flattery and persuasion, the assumption being that the system that has =
worked=20
well thus far should work for these remaining hard cases; we just need =
to work=20
harder on them. This logic is flawed. Instead, we need a radical new =
approach.=20
</P>
<P>In the New Yorker last year, Malcolm Gladwell maintained that chronic =

homelessness is a problem that can be abolished, not merely managed, =
because in=20
the end it can be reduced to solving a few hard cases. When you do the =
maths, he=20
says, the answer becomes clear: just give them a house.</P>
<P>In a number of cities across the United States, they are doing the =
maths.=20
They discovered to their astonishment that leaving rough sleepers on the =
street=20
costs a fortune. In Boston a study found that a group of 119 rough =
sleepers had=20
been admitted to hospital 18,834 times in five years at the cost of =
$32,000 each=20
a year. In San Diego a similar exercise with 15 of their homeless =
revealed a=20
bill of $3 million over an 18-month period. In Reno, Nevada, one =
ten-year=20
veteran rough sleeper had cost the city a cool $1 million with =
absolutely no=20
improvement to his way of life.</P>
<P>In St Louis, Missouri, they went one step farther. Abandoning the =
usual=20
approach to rough sleepers, where permanent housing is seen as the goal =
of=20
rehabilitation, the city authorities decided to make housing the first =
step on=20
the journey back to normality, not the last. They simply rented some =
apartments,=20
approached their hardest cases, gave them the keys to their own free =
homes, and=20
showed them how to get there. No strings, no process, no hassle. It =
worked. The=20
toughest of vagrants started coming inside.</P>
<P>Of course it isn't quite that simple. With the litany of problems, =
physical=20
and mental, that assail the majority of rough sleepers, huge amounts of =
support=20
are needed to maintain a life inside. But how much better and cheaper to =
support=20
and manage their needs indoors than out. And boy, do we have the skills =
to do=20
that. </P>
<P>Over the past ten years, local authorities, charities and church =
groups have=20
become masters at keeping people indoors once they get there, but it's =
getting=20
the last few through the door that is the problem.</P>
<P>The logjam could be broken and the warring factions reunited by doing =
exactly=20
what the Americans are doing: giving away homes free to chronic rough =
sleepers,=20
and then working to keep them indoors. </P>
<P>Are you spluttering =93Just give them a flat?! The same flat I have =
to work all=20
week to pay for? Are you mad?!=94?</P>
<P>If the moral argument that we have a duty to the unfortunate doesn't =
sway=20
you, then the economics might. In Britain, though, the maths is hard to =
do.=20
Government direct spending on rough sleepers is hidden within general =
housing=20
grants and we have absolutely no idea what burden this small, troubled =
group=20
places upon the NHS. Throw in local authority spending, and the budgets =
of the=20
many homeless charities, and my rough estimate puts the number at =
anything up to=20
=A330,000 a year for each rough sleeper: enough to rent a one-bed flat =
in Chelsea=20
and pay the minimum full-time wage, and have change left over.</P>
<P>Whatever the exact number, it should be big enough to shock you. =
Perhaps big=20
enough that we might cut our losses and give rough sleepers the homes =
that save=20
us money, and that might just save their lives.</P>
<P>Kit Malthouse is a Conservative candidate for the London Assembly =
</P><!-- End of pagination --></DIV></DIV></BODY></HTML>

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