New Liverpool homelessness fund comes under fire

Designed to discourage the public from giving money to rough sleepers, Change Liverpool is being accused of ‘dehumanising’ homeless people with its central message. Tony McDonough reports

Church Street
Change Liverpool will discourage the public from giving money to people on the street. Picture by Tony McDonough

 

A new fund is being set up to support people living homeless on the streets of Liverpool by offering grants for deposits for flats and to buy furniture.

But one of Change Liverpool’s central aims, discouraging members of the public from giving money directly to homeless people, has been given a cool reception by one local expert on the subject. And a senior city councillor has also taken issue with its messaging.

Talking to LBN, the unnamed person who has significant experience of working with rough sleepers in the city, said: “This feels more like an anti-begging agenda. Campaigns discouraging people from giving money directly are rarely effective. They distract away from the larger issues at the root of homelessness.”

And, despite the involvement of Liverpool City Council in the project, the city’s Cabinet Member for Development and Housing, Sarah Doyle, was also scathing about the central message of the campaign.

She tweeted: “I’m extremely disappointed to see Change Liverpool perpetuating these messages and further dehumanising homeless people. I’m going to be raising my concerns about the values behind this project immediately.”

Change Liverpool will rely on public donations which will be used to provide grants to those in need of support to get off the street and into new opportunities. It is estimated it could raise tens of thousands of pounds by “changing the cycle of street begging”.

Managed by the Community Foundation for Merseyside, the fund is part of a wider campaign designed to change public perceptions about supporting the homeless and is being led by a new multi-agency support network.

The Change Liverpool network includes key organisations such as: Liverpool BID Company, the Community Foundation for Merseyside, Crisis, Liverpool Parish Church, Liverpool City Council, The Whitechapel Centre and other professionals who work with homelessness.

Its launch follows the ending of the Government’s Everyone In policy, which Liverpool chose to extend until mid-August this year.

During the pandemic Liverpool City Council, through a partnership with registered housing providers, found homes for more than 1,500 people, providing furniture and support.

It has extended this joint approach with local housing providers until the end of September to prioritise those at risk of homelessness into accommodation. However, with winter fast approaching fears are rising that some people may withdraw from support and go back onto the streets – and to beg.

A former gas engineer, whose life fell apart due to alcoholism and found himself begging on the city’s street for six years to fuel his addiction, which once brought him to the point of death, has helped launch the appeal.

Jay Keenan, 46, said the fund will be a far better way to help those on the streets, rather than giving any small change given by those who feel sorry for those less fortunate than themselves.

He has been sober since 2015 and is now employed as a senior case worker at Transforming Choice, an addiction support charity in South Liverpool. He said: “Change Liverpool is the right approach.

“We think giving money, food or a blanket to someone suffering on the street is helping them. It’s not. You’re just keeping them there. It’s a basic human instinct to help but although you may feel better about that support, in the long term all you are really doing is helping to slowly kill them by keeping that person on the streets.”

Carol Hamlett, director at Transforming Choice, also said: “We welcome the Change Liverpool initiative; society has become so desensitised to seeing people on the streets and in doorways, it has become the norm to give money directly to the individual.

“If 100 people beg for 3 days per week for a year, and receive £100 each day, that adds up to over £1.5m each year. We’d like to see this money collected into a fund that could support people with a deposit for a flat and enable them to turn it into a home.|”

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