Solutions to the “problem” of homelessness which seem to make common sense, appeal to politicians, and don’t chafe at the prejudices of the populace sputter forth with tedious regularity. Invariably described in superlatives like “cutting edge initiative” and “bold long term planning” they all share one thing in common. They don’t work. They suck up oodles of tax money and assuage many a conscience but the numbers rise or, at best, remain stagnant.
Solutions that just might work — like legalizing drugs or diverting people from prisons — are political non-starters. What appears to be needed are programs that defy common sense and are just strange enough to slip past the guardians of collective morality.
In that vein, the charitable “Broadway” organization of London England came up with a truly inspired and novel idea … give the homeless more money.
“The charity targeted the longest-term rough sleepers in the City, who had been on the streets for between four and 45 years (no mean achievement when average life expectancy for the long-term homeless is 42). Instead of the usual offers of hostel places, they were simply asked what they needed to change their lives.
One asked for a new pair of trainers and a television; another for a caravan on a travellers’ site in Suffolk, which was duly bought for him. Of the 13 people who engaged with the scheme, 11 have moved off the streets. The outlay averaged £794 ($1,277) per person (on top of the project’s staff costs). None wanted their money spent on drink, drugs or bets. Several said they co-operated because they were offered control over their lives rather than being “bullied” into hostels. Howard Sinclair of Broadway explains: “We just said, ‘It’s your life and up to you to do what you want with it, but we are here to help if you want.”