Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Toronto eyes an expensive, but apparently effective, solution to homelessness

The Globe and Mail has an article discussing Britain's radical take on homelessness, which Toronto is contemplating copying. If what the article describes is true, it sounds like one of the few expensive and successful government programs out there. Here's how the article describes it:

In the years from 1997 to 2002, Britain's Labour government all but eliminated London's homeless problem. Using a program known as the Rough Sleepers Unit, which has become an inspiration for Toronto officials, squads of workers roamed the streets each night and offered thousands of homeless people places in an expensive hierarchy of shelters, drop-in centres, alcohol-permitting 'wet spaces,' shelter-to-home transition facilities and public-housing facilities designed for the recently homeless. Once this ambitious project was complete, and Prime Minister Tony Blair had achieved his promise of moving two-thirds of street people into permanent housing, the Rough Sleepers Unit was abandoned. For the remaining homeless of London, generally a rough and troubled bunch who have refused or avoided other forms of help, the only hand being offered is the long arm of the law. 'This is as hard as it's ever been since I started sleeping rough 12 years ago,' Jock said. 'For a long time they'd come along and tell you to come and join the other crack heads and boozers in a shelter, and I'd say 'go away,'.' he said. 'Now they just tell you you're going to get arrested.' In 2003, Britain introduced the anti-social-behaviour order as a way for police to deal with the intimidating behaviour of drunks and idle young men that has long been a feature of the nation's streets. But the order also became a favoured tool against the more visible effects of homelessness: Begging, wandering aimlessly, shouting and sleeping in public places.
In a way, what Blair did is like judo, he used the liberals' own idea -- shelter and treatment -- and was able to winnow out those who were willing to receive it and able to benefit from it. That was the velvet glove. The iron hand seems to be that the hardcore cases get the imprisoned, without any form of welfare state solace. What's really interesting to me is that the article does not mention a new generation of homeless coming along. That is, you'd think that, having gotten rid of the past generation of "homeless, but seeking real help" people, another generation of damaged people would be on the street, and Blair's government would have to repeat the winnowing process over and over again. It seems, instead that this social wound, once cauterized, doesn't keep coming back.