Posted by: Emily Twinch03/09/2010
The myriad of ideas that came out at a half-day conference to look at what the Big Society means for homelessness providers this week just proved how ambiguous this concept is. And how confused people are by what it means and how it will impact on them.
Brent Homeless User Group held the event at the International Salvation Army headquarters in Queen Victoria Street, London, for charities and other organisations working with the homeless.
Some thought the Big Society was about family, others about neighbours coming together and a few as a way to justify public sector job cuts.
There were concerns about a ‘Tesco-isation’ of services and less equality for people, with decisions in the community made by a small number of middle-class people and service users not able to have their voice.
Will this not cost money to set up, they asked, and where will that money come from? Using unpaid volunteers might end up costing more, if you don’t have paid for professionals working alongside, some thought.
Andy Williams from homelessness charity St Mungo’s believed it had to be clear that volunteering should be a temporary state, that people could learn and move on from. Not a way to plug job losses.
Martin Cheeseman, director of housing and community care at Brent council, suggested people working in and for the community had been happening for years. He thought Big Society should mean government listening to the community.
So, what does it mean? Did David Cameron wake up one day and have a great idea for a good headline? Or was his plan carefully worked out?
If it was, people in the homelessness world certainly don’t know how they fit into it yet.
Although, Geoffrey Roughton from an organisation called Vincent House, had some good ideas in one workshop. He talked about years ago when people had a sense of social responsibility and just helped out others in the community, about bringing 3,000 empty homes in Brent back into use and his own personal generosity in helping people less fortunate than him. They sound like basic things, but don’t they just make sense?
From Out of office
What the Inside Housing writers have been up to when they’ve been prised away from their desks