Grant Campbell believes compassion and a duty of care can deal most effectively with begging on our streets
Much has been written about the visibility of street begging and rough sleeping in Glasgow. Whilst everyone agrees these are issues that should not exist in 2017, it is abundantly clear it is easy to say this but harder to achieve.
Firstly, it’s important to distinguish people begging and those rough sleeping. Many people who beg have accommodation of some sort. Others do not and are homeless. Many people who are homeless do not beg. Often we confuse the two – both require different solutions.
The level of complex needs that people who are on the streets have tells us that any solutions will also not be quick or simple.
I am often asked why do some people on the streets not go for help and do they choose to sleep rough.
For homelessness campaigners and solicitors this is a loaded question, particularly as Scottish legislation regarding homelessness is held up as being the best in the world. That is, it allows for people to ‘intentionally’ sleep rough or to choose not to engage. But why on earth would anyone choose sleep on the streets of Glasgow?
Having the choice not to accept charity is the only choice some feel they have left
I want to be very careful as I describe the journey of people who’ve grown up with brokenness, addiction, violence and abuse. Often children are born into this world with limited choices, which rapidly reduce further with each choice they make.
The choice to respond violently in retaliation… or not. The choice to lie in order to get help… or not. The choice to take drugs to get through the day… or not. These are not really choices but the lesser of two evils.
You end up with very little control over your life if you’re a rough sleeper with complex needs. Sometimes charities will decide when you eat, what you eat and what you wear. And as a society, we expect that people better be grateful for the help they’re being given!
If you have experience of prison, you’ll also have been told when to get up and when to go to sleep. Even in some supported accommodation the regime doesn’t allow for real choice.
Someone once described ‘intentional rough sleeping’ a bit like self-harm. While seemingly completely irrational to most, having the choice not to accept charity, often with its conditions, is the only choice some feel they have left. It’s not really a choice, but it is self-determination of sorts.
While Glasgow does have visible problems of street begging and rough sleeping, the mix of mental health and addiction challenges means our response must understand and address these problems also.
Too often we’re just managing the crisis that is rough sleeping, which is far too late. If we’re serious about ending rough sleeping we must accept that as a society we’ve failed people at several points in their life. We’ve failed adults and children alike, and we’ve just closed our eyes and hoped that someone else will fix the problem.
Homelessness is everyone’s business. Nursery, schools, hospitals, police, churches, mosques, synagogues, third sector, private sector, and public sector the list goes on.
Being on the streets can be lonely and leave you feeling invisible. Saying hello and asking someone’s name can make a big difference. The person might ask for a cup of tea.
We’ve failed adults and children alike, and we’ve just closed our eyes and hoped that someone else will fix the problem. Homelessness is everyone’s business. Nursery, schools, hospitals, police, churches, mosques, synagogues, third sector, private sector, and public sector the list goes on.
Often we look for people to blame for the brokenness that we see on our streets. Sadly the issues for many people began long ago and the people responsible are long gone. However, as a society we do have a duty of care for people.
In my time in this sector I’ve seen horrendous responses towards rough sleepers and those begging and I’ve also witness incredible loving acts of kindness both from the third and public sector.
We are compassionate and we lack compassion at the same time. If People Make Glasgow then we must choose what type of ‘People’ we want to be.
Grant Campbell is the chief executive of Glasgow City Mission