The reaction to Prince William’s homelessness plan is as much a story of our time as the plan itself. It’s worth recapping what he’s up to. Billed as Homewards, William said it’s his life work to fix homelessness. That is certainly an ambition. He has drawn together 15 organisations at the forefront of homelessness and homeless prevention to look at workable solutions. The Big Issue is one of them.
Focused on six test areas across the UK, he’s asking key people and organisations in those geographical areas, each faced with a more prominent contributing factor around homelessness, whether it be lack of mental health provision or youth homelessness, to work together on solutions and then to see if those solutions could be rolled out. He’s sticking £3 million into the project. That’s it, in essence, with added Ginger Spice.
It didn’t take long for the cynicism to edge in. There is quite a range. It runs from fury that he hasn’t given over tracts of land for development, or palaces to allow people to bed down in, to dismissal that it’s all platitudinous virtue signalling on a royal scale, that it’s a political problem and should be tackled by government, and, well, it’s only a drop in the ocean and what difference will it make anyway, so why’s he bothering.
And while I think it’d be interesting to house dozens of rough sleepers in Buckingham Palace (at the very least there is a documentary in that), I think these reactions are more about making those people feel better about their reaction and allowing them to make a show of the reactions, than about the thing William is trying to do. Such remarks are the lifefuel of social media.
They are also all a bit wrong.
Obviously, to make wholesale structural change to the manifest problems maintaining people in poverty or in mental health provision or in help for care leavers, or any other of the elements that lead to homelessness, you’d need a massive change of approach at governmental level, and huge investment. And some homes on the royal estates would be helpful. (Maybe that’s the next stage.)