A homelessness charity responds to Ross Kemp: Living With Homelessness

'Thames Reach works with those at all stages, including people at risk of eviction, and viewers feeling understandably hopeless about the situation would surely have been interested to know about the work being done'

Last night ITV aired the first episode of a new series of real-life documentaries fronted by Ross Kemp. Living with Homelessness saw Kemp visit Cardiff’s streets and night shelters to observe the reality of rough sleeping first-hand. At Thames Reach, we have a long history of supporting homeless people in London and now East Surrey, so were interested to see how such a documentary would be presented to a general audience.

Throughout, the programme succeeded in giving viewers an insight into the complex nature of homelessness and identified that its solution must respect different issues and needs. The documentary was dominated by first-person accounts and the voices of those who are currently rough sleeping, which is one positive aspect, as those with lived experience of homelessness have the power to awaken public consciousness on the issue.

Unfortunately, with only half an hour to convey the story, many parts were omitted and it fell into the trap of viewing rough sleepers as no more than their respective substance addictions or mental health issues. At Thames Reach, we are highly concerned about issues regarding access to healthcare faced by rough sleepers, and these needs were implicitly showcased. It was full of recent statistics, and one which will stick in many viewers’ minds will be that one homeless person commits suicide each week, another undeniable reminder that physical and mental healthcare should be a top priority in the ongoing work towards ending homelessness at its roots.

At Thames Reach, we pride ourselves on telling homelessness how it is

Beyond the statistics, having the camera crew following its interviewees beyond the streets and into day centres, including safe needle exchanges, provided insight into the support available, albeit very briefly. However, Kemp sleeping rough for the night has certainly been done before, such as the 60 Days on the Streets documentary which aired earlier this year, and has been widely regarded as distasteful. When we have people with lived experience telling us how dangerous street homelessness is, how effective is it to have yet another celebrity sleeping rough for one night?

Kemp’s firm conclusion is that the data is not accurate as he followed one rough sleeper, Ebenezer Goode, in the English town of Swadlincote, who claimed numbers did not account for him and did not reflect the real situation. This is undoubtedly a serious oversight that needs rectifying, however throughout the country dedicated outreach teams are working directly to locate and assist rough sleepers, so data is being proved to be increasingly more reliable as councils pledge more funding for these services. The role of the various charities used for the documentary, both in Cardiff and those consulted to back up data from across the country, could have been optimised to provide more than just confirmation of the statistics.

At Thames Reach, we pride ourselves on telling homelessness how it is, and Kemp’s team were thorough in their eagerness to tell the stories of consented participants in the short allocated time. With our firmly held beliefs that no one should be given up on, it would have made for a more well-rounded programme to name-check the support available and its multifaceted outlook. Thames Reach works with those at all stages, including people at risk of eviction, and viewers feeling understandably hopeless about the situation would surely have been interested to know about the work being done. This would have been a welcome, yet open-ended, conclusion to the programme, to highlight that, while homelessness is on the agenda on a local and national level, audiences can support services and teams who are truly committed to ending street homelessness, as well as showing compassion to those around them.

Isobel Scott is Communications Officer at Thames Reach, a charity based in London and East Surrey which supports homeless and former homeless people and others who require assistance and interventions to sustain themselves in accommodation and to improve their quality of life

Image: ITV