In an age where homelessness agencies are increasingly required to measure the outcomes of their work and probably rightly so, I have a few questions regarding some of the frontline services they provide.
First a bit of background:
I’ve noticed over the last few years that many of the larger homelessness agencies in London who deliver front line services, particularly outreach and street rescue services, seem to have developed a philosophy of not doing anything that can be viewed in any way as encouraging people to stay on the streets. For example, where night shelters used to provide beds for people to sleep on, some have now replaced beds with chairs, so as not to make people feel “too comfortable”. Street Outreach workers who, on finding people sleeping rough may be discouraged on first contact from giving people food or cigarettes etc.
I’m not sure that this has become the prevailing attitude but it does concern me somewhat. The reason it concerns me is that it could be argued that this approach amounts to a systematic withdrawal of compassion to those who need it most at the time when they need it most.
I can see where the approach comes from and I can see the logic in it, i.e. if you make the experience of rough sleeping even harder than it already is it will discourage people from sleeping on the streets at all. I’m just not sure it works.
In the homelessness sector we are well versed in providing proof of outcomes in getting people back into accommodation, work, education etc, so my questions are:
Is there any proof that the approach to rough sleepers outlined above actually works?
Should we be measuring outcomes when it comes to delivering different philosophical approaches to the way we deal with those experiencing homelessness?
Are different philosophical approaches to dealing with rough sleepers even measurable?