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‘Homelessness is a societal issue so it has to be a societal solution,’ says Mick Clarke of The Passage

Mick Clarke, CEO of homelessness charity The Passage, talks about what needs to be done to prevent many more people losing their homes due to the cost of living crisis and how Prince William has raised awareness of the issue

The Duke of Cambridge with clients and staff of The Passage (plus Mary Berry) in 2019. Mick Clarke is on the left at the front. Courtesy of The Passage

The Passage, a homelessness charity in London that supports people who are street homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, is barely a 15-minute walk from Buckingham Palace. It was here that Princess Diana brought her young sons to give them insight into the lives of those less privileged.

Prince William first visited when he was 11 years old and it left a lasting impression.

“Ever since I came with my mother, homelessness has stuck with me as an issue I want to fight for,” the Duke of Cambridge said during his conversation with Big Issue vendor Dave Martin, who the Duke joined to sell magazines this month.

Prince WIlliam and Big Issue vendor Dave Martin chat to customers in central London
Prince WIlliam and Big Issue vendor Dave Martin chat to customers in central London. Photo: Andy Parsons

The issues behind a person becoming homeless are complicated, unique to every individual. The best way to understand them is to talk to the individuals themselves. That was what Diana and her boys would do when they first visited.

“They’d talk with some of our clients and hear their stories, sometimes play some boardgames with them,” says Mick Clarke, The Passage’s CEO.

“When we did the massive refurbishment of the building in 2016, we asked if [the Duke of Cambridge] would open it, which he did. Then during one visit he said that he’d like to be a Patron, which was lovely, to put it mildly.

Princess Diana, William and Harry at The Passage in 1993
Princess Diana visited The Passage with her young sons William and Harry in 1993 Photo: Courtesy of The Passage

“He does a variety of different things for us. But I think the thing that he loves the most is just meeting face to face with our service users. Because he knows that it’s not sanitised. He knows they will tell him exactly as it is about the realities, and they don’t pull any punches.”

The Passage is dedicated to reducing the number of people who become homeless in the best way possible – by preventing them ever becoming homeless in the first place.

“We do huge amount of work preventing people ending up street homeless,” Clarke explains. “That can be really varied. Some people we’re able to help very quickly. Others have very complex issues around mental health, drugs and alcohol.

“But we also do a lot of work with people who have moved on. A project called Home for Good looks at how the community can play a role with, say, the challenge of moving into a flat for the first time. Perhaps the individual has an interest, Home for Good will buddy them up with someone in the community who shares that interest, to build positive relationships in that new area.

“This programme is proven to help clients to sustain their tenancies and prevents them from returning to the streets. That’s what it’s all about. Sustaining the outcome of ending homelessness for that individual.”

However, Clarke warns that 2022 is shaping up to create a “perfect storm” as we continue to wrestle with the pandemic and a cost of living crisis begins to bite.

“We’ve certainly noticed an upturn in terms of those who are at risk of street homeless,” he says. “In the last month alone, we saw nearly 400 people who are in that category.

“That’s before certain elements of cost of living kick in. I think this is going to be a perfect storm.

“And it’s really frustrating because what we saw with Everyone In is what can be achieved. One of the things with Everyone In that was a game changer was defining street homelessness as a public health issue. And I’m convinced that’s the route we need to go down.” 

An art therapy class at The Passage. Image courtesy of The Passage
An art therapy class at The Passage. Image courtesy of The Passage

At the start of the pandemic, the government’s Everyone In scheme brought all rough sleepers off the streets and put them in accommodation. Practically overnight it proved that big steps could be taken to tackle homelessness. It wasn’t a way to solve every individual’s circumstances, but it was a great start.

So should the government be blamed for not continuing the policy?

“I think the easy thing to do is to blame government but in some ways, it’s lazy thinking,” Clarke says. “What you saw with Everyone In was that homelessness is a societal issue. So it has to be a societal solution.

“Absolutely there has to be funding but it has to be looking at how there can be the focus on prevention. The lastest figures show something like 85 per cent of people who are claiming benefits are in work. Addressing in work poverty is critical.

“The people that we’re seeing who are at risk of street homelessness are those who a lot of people reading this article will relate to. They have insecure housing, insecure payment structures.

“So it’s looking at how you can give greater job security. When we’ve seen people who have sustained a route out of homelessness, employment is undoubtedly is a game changer.

“And if you get proper support from around the community you’re living in – you’ve cracked it.”

Click here to find out more about The Passage

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