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Opinion

The path to ending homelessness starts with a little thing called hope

If we want to build a brighter world for everyone, we have to focus on tomorrow today. I went to Stoke-on-Trent to meet those working on the frontline to end rough sleeping

Left to right: Jo Gideon MP, John Bird, Saeeda Badri, rough sleepers coordinator for Stoke City Council and Nathan Farr, rough sleepers coordinator for Brighter Futures Housing Association

For a project that endeavours to get rough sleepers off the streets of Stoke-on-Trent, 90 Hope Street is suitably named.

Hope, or a lack of it, is one of the first things that goes when you arrive on the streets to live. Why believe there is any reason for hope when you are down to ground zero? Why imagine that things could be better when life is reduced to an immediacy? Everything is about the next piece of relief, the next few minutes or hour; at most the next day. 

Losing hope means that it often becomes incredibly difficult for people who’ve been brought down to the streets to even contemplate a future. It is only when you can introduce the idea that things could improve with support and help that people can rise from street life. 

What I first liked about 90 Hope Street is that it looked like an ordinary house among other houses. It did not announce ‘institution’ or that you were about to be ‘processed’. I spoke to some of the staff and customers – as they call people using the service. The mood was determined, to help people get off the streets. 

The important word here is ‘people’. I have campaigned seemingly for ever to get people to realise that homeless people are people. They have not simply fallen into another human category. The staff at 90 Hope Street do their best to achieve this lifting up of people by supporting them as people. 

I was in Stoke with Jo Gideon, the local MP, to talk about supporting my Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill that is now in the House of Commons. I was also meeting with the Business Improvement District, talking about bringing prosperity back to city centres; a surefire way of spreading prosperity, and an essential detail to help a community engaged in helping those that end up on the streets. After all, a healthier community is more likely to put effort into supporting initiatives to get people off rough sleeping.  

We did a litter-pick around Hanley in the centre of this strange city made up of six different towns. It was a part of my interest in the social echo, the idea that small things can make big changes. So looking after your environment hopefully leads to bigger steps and bigger understanding. 

The Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill and the alliance we are building around it does not rule out the current crisis and its emergencies, like homelessness. In order to sort out the future we need to respond to the crisis of today.

To start off on the right foot with the future we have to recognise that the future begins today. Today for tomorrow. So projects like 90 Hope Street are to be encouraged and supported because they can respond to the emergency in people’s lives.

But we have to build prevention at the same time. It’s not one or the other. Build strong emergency responses that get people out of grief now, and work on cutting the supply of people who fall into the emergency of homelessness. 

I was pleased to meet the Stoke-on-Trent coordinator of the rough sleepers programme, who talked about bringing all the efforts together so duplication and under-utilised resources don’t happen. There was a great buzz to the visit. Jo Gideon is tapped in to the problems thrown up by people falling into homelessness, and the role that community and business, as well as the local authority, play. 

The attempt two years ago to get people off the streets through Everyone In showed a resolute stab at combating homelessness. Alas, it did not survive beyond lockdown. Quite a number of people did stay in and petitioned to move from the streets. But without the wraparound support necessary, we see many people falling down again and again.

This is not responding fully to the crisis of homelessness. If we need to do anything now, it is to ensure that emergency responses are effective and full of hope. Hope is the first ingredient of getting people off the streets. 

Stoke-on-Trent made my Friday resound with meeting a solution that rang true. These are the projects that we need to get behind.  

John Bird is the founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue. Read more of his words here.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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