Why giving tents to UK’s homeless is an admission of failure


Justin Parkinson’s (BBC News Magazine – 28.04.16) raises the question of whether homeless people should be given tents.

While he nowhere suggests that anyone in the UK is officially advocating this, I’m dismayed that the wisdom of doing so is even posed as a question.

If Britain has reached the point where people think its acceptable to acknowledge that homelessness is so much part of the landscape that it should be ‘accommodated’ (sic) rather than addressed, its politicians should hang their heads in shame.

Tented shelter is provided universally as a last resort, as a short-term reaction to natural disaster or situations where immediate humanitarian relief is the only option.

Homelessness in the UK is unacceptable, but it is a man-made situation that should be addressed – by prevention (ideally) or at least by effective remediation.

The moment we make even a quantum shift from intolerance to tolerance of the social isolation that leads a human being to street homelessness, we have compromised our humanity.

There are officially more than 200,000 empty homes in Britain; 22,000 in London alone. According to latest DCLG figures there are 3,569 rough sleepers in England – 940 in London.

Even the most numerately challenged can work out that this is not a problem about roofs and heads!

There are myriad reasons why men, women and children end up homeless. Existing statutory safety-nets catch only a few of them (i.e. those who ‘qualify’). Of course compassion has its place, but the ad hoc distribution of  ameliorating comforts  is not the answer.

The sophistry employed by those who assign discrete ‘reasons’ for why specific groups are homeless is a distraction. As long as service in the armed forces, mental health issues, lack of education, unemployment, relationship breakdown, residency status, alcohol dependency etc are treated being unique triggers by those with vested interests, the underlying issue will remain unaddressed.

No-one can sustain a home in 21st Century Britain unless they have an income, a support network of some description and good health. A meal, a sleeping bag and a tent may offer transient comfort, but proactively normalising any of those things is abdication of responsibility of the most dangerous kind.

This suggestion is not progress and no amount of smart words and policies will ever make it so.  Housing is the “elephant in the room” for our politicians.  Few it would seem, have the courage to deal with the national housing scandal but if there is a “silver-lining” to this dreadful suggestion of tents it that it may provide a rude awakening to those in power…21st Century Britain must be better than this.

There are solutions. There are models that work – and for the few who will always and inevitably prove to be beyond help, there are better options than handing out tents.  This shocking story makes it hard to believe that Britain has a future as a truly humanitarian nation…need, not greed, must be the guiding principle.  Houses are not a commodity.