Does charity begin with homelessness?
What is behind Wiltshire Council's new set of positive words: 'Real Change Wiltshire'?
Lesley Honey is 41. She was living in Salisbury with a 'guy I thought was very nice, but between Christmas and new year he started beating me up.'
She ended up at the RUH in Bath with two black eyes, a broken arm and an 'eyebrow that had to be glued back together'. With bruises still showing, the police said they could not do anything as there wasn't enough evidence.
The council said that technically by leaving this abusive man she had made herself homeless. They gave her five nights in a hostel for homeless people - and then she was living on the streets for about five months.
Councillors who sit on Wiltshire's governing 'cabinet' may not know a lot about Lesley as her story was published earlier this month in a national newspaper they probably do not read (*). And anyway they have an unrealistically rosy view of Wiltshire: surely no one can be horrid or in trouble in a county full of such beautiful countryside.
We remember clearly how Wiltshire councillors went on the record complaining that the Wiltshire and Swindon series of the television programme 999: What's Your Emergency gave a misleading picture of Wiltshire. (Episode 3 of Series 5 explored '...the impact of homelessness on Wiltshire Police'.)
Then on December 20, Wiltshire Council put out a press release:
Wiltshire Council, in partnership with local homeless charities Doorway in Chippenham, Breakthrough in Trowbridge, Alabare in Salisbury and Devizes Opendoors, has launched its Real Change Wiltshire campaign.
The campaign aims to raise money for homeless charities in order to target the help needed for people who are sleeping rough, in preference to giving them money directly.
Charities and support organisations, which specialise in helping homeless people and have access to the support networks needed to help deal with the complicated issues around homelessness, are best placed to give professional help to people in need.
These organisations offer a much better chance of helping people to get off the streets permanently, and donating to charity is a far more effective way to help them.
Cabinet member for housing, Chuck Berry, said: 'We are committed to protecting vulnerable people in Wiltshire, and we work closely with the voluntary sector to provide support and facilities to homeless people.'
'We want homeless people to have the support they need to make positive change in their lives, and the Real Change Wiltshire campaign will help to achieve this. I would urge people to donate to Real Change Wiltshire to help make a difference in our county.'
It then told people how they can donate [see below] - though the online donation address for Devizes will be available in the new year.
It certainly looks as though Wiltshire Council is handing over the vital work of supporting the homeless to charities. The press release makes no mention of Council funding for this 'campaign' - or of Wiltshire Council contributing to the four charities' funds.
Is this campaign just a fig leaf? Is it a way to make people believe Wiltshire Council are on the side of the homeless? It certainly did not seem like it when Wiltshire Council brought in a Public Spaces Protection order in Westbury which meant that police could arrest rough sleepers rather than help find them support.
The Council had not consulted Westbury Area Board - who will meet on January 4 to reconsider the order.
In Marlborough we remember clearly how Wiltshire Council allowed the closure and sale of the town's only homeless hostel. They did not consult - did not even tell - the Town Council.
Finally, why does the Real Change Wiltshire logo [below] look so dirty? Are they trying to tell us something? Or is this a joke that has fallen out of a cracker? Or is this a very early April Fool?
The Wiltshire Council press release ended: If you see someone on the street that needs help, contact Streetlink or call 0300 500 0914 to share vital information. The details will be sent to local outreach workers to look into how best to help. (Streetlink is a charity that operates in England and Wales and is funded by the Department of Communities and Local Government, the London Assembly and the Welsh government. It too accepts donations.)
Lesley Honey is getting her life together again. She will be spending Christmas in her room in a hostel in Chippenham.
(* The Guardian)
From the Wiltshire Council press release: To help make a real change in Wiltshire, donate to help people in the Trowbridge and Chippenham areas here: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/WiltshireCouncil or donate to help people in the Salisbury area here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/wiltshire-council. Donations for the Devizes area will be available in the new year., for more information, please see www.wiltshire.gov.uk/realchangewiltshire.