The cold snap that occurred in the winter of 2009 afflicted several individuals, caused flights to be cancelled and people to be stranded at airports, on roads and within inadequately heated homes. But the worst impact of the cold fell upon the homeless people; according to a BBC report, even in an affluent country like Germany, at least nine homeless men aged between 42 to 62 froze to death.(www.bbc.co.uk). The prevailing belief is that homelessness is no longer a problem in a developed country such as the UK and in the year 2001, the UK Government maintained that the numbers of people sleeping on the streets had dropped significantly. This was however refuted by the campaign group Crisis, which warns that people are merely moving from the streets into temporary shelters and then moving back onto the streets again (www.bbc.co.uk, 2001).
Recent statistics reveal that there may be still be vast numbers of homeless people still populating UK’s streets. In evaluating the trends over time, about two thirds of homeless people in general were single persons over the age of 25 rather than members with families. In England, the number of people recognized officially as being homeless in the year 2007 was 99,500, and this revealed a decreasing trend. The current figure was half of what the figures were in the year 2004 and well below the high numbers that existed a decade ago(www.crisis.org.uk). Similar trends were not however, reported in Wales and Scotland. In the case of the fomer, the number of households recognized as officially newly homeless were 9300, which is an increase from the values of 2004. The homelessness trend has been fluctuating in Wales, it rose sharply from 2001 to 2004, then dropped sharply up to 2007 when it registered another increase. An increasing trend was also displayed in Scotland; the number of households which were categorized as newly homeless were 41,00 which are actually a third higher than they were a decade ago.
Most people have little sympathy for homeless people, because they believe that these individuals deliberately choose to adopt this option so that they can scrounge off the sympathy and assistance of kindly folk. But as was pointed out in the BBC news item cited above, homelessness is like a vicious cycle because it creates its own set of problems. The failure to be able to demonstrate the existence of a permanent address means that such individuals are also not able to get jobs to earn money for themselves, which in turn, only leads to a higher incidence of homelessness. Although the Government houses these homeless people in temporary shelters and hostels, there are problems of drugs and abuse at the hostels which make these places unsafe for young girls; as also cited in the article, one girl moved out on to the streets because she was abused at home and the hostels were not a safe place for her. At age 17, she was too old for housing through Social services and in view of the dangers in the hostels, had no other option but to move out into the streets. (www.bbc.co.uk, 2001).
Homelessness is thus, an acute social problem that worsens during the bitter cold of the winter months, where people who are homeless are exposed to the brutal cold. In the wake of the recession, the threat of homelessness has become even more real to most people because of the difficulties in keeping up with mortgage payments, which could cause repossession of their homes. The Salvation Army is a charitable organization and its branches in the UK are doing a great deal to help society cope with the problem of homelessness in Britain. The guiding principle that guides the activities of this organization all over the United Kingdom and the world is that every person is valuable and no individual should have to suffer or be stigmatised because of who they are or where they live. The belief in people is therefore the overriding vision of the Salvation Army and this belief is reflected in all of its activities and all of its people.
According to Maff Potts, the Director of Homeless Services , the best thing about the Salvation Army is the people on the ground (www.youtube.com). They are able to work hard and derive innovative solutions to deal with problems arising in developing make shift shelters or in coping with the other associated problems of homelessness, so that the objective of helping as many people as possible is reached. This may be viewed in the context of the general attitude people have towards homelessness, i.e., solve it by all means, but NIMBY – not in my back yard.
From a psychological perspective, one of the views that has been offered is that we as a society fail to do much about homelessness, because of our own inner fears of being out of a job or being homeless. Debates rage in society about the causes of homelessness, while the emergent and pressing need that most homeless people have is the need for shelter. While most individuals profess empathy and sympathy for homeless people, they are often reluctant to come forward to help homeless people, whom they perceive as vagrants or drug addicts. As opposed to this, the people working in the Salvation Army are active doers, they reach out to homeless people and try to provide viable solutions to their problems. As discussed above, homelessness gives rise to a vicious cycle of joblessness, especially in view of the stigma associated with living in temporary accommodation such as hostels. Employers tend to view such job applicants as shifty and unreliable and may not be overly keen to provide them with employment.
Moreover, homeless people also suffer from the lack of warm, loving relationships in their life. They are afflicted with feelings of helplessness and loneliness because no one appears to care for them or be willing to lend them a helping hand. The Salvation Army has understood all of these problems and offers the best possible assistance to homeless people to deal with the major problem as well as the associated ones.
This is where the hard working volunteer and paid workers in the Salvation Army come in to help and assist these people, not only by providing them with a temporary shelter where they can stay but also helping them to address some of the associated problems. For example, the Salvation army has 83 “lifehouses” all around the country where the objective is to tackle the problem of homelessness by tackling the two major problems associated with it – the lack of purpose and the lack of relationships. All of these centres offer residents activities and training that are designed to help improve their self esteem and mental health, while also providing them with necessary training to improve their employability.(www1.salvationarmy.org.uk By carrying ). In fact, the Salvation Army has taken steps to create 900 posts, which are to be filled up by people who have been unemployed for a long time, most of whom will be applicants referred from the Job Centre Plus. This project is to be funded from the DWP’s Future Jobs Fund and the jobs which these 900 people will be engaged in is planning, organizing and carrying out recreational and training activities for homeless people, in order to help them overcome their problems of lack of purpose and lack of relationships, as well as aiding in a resolution of their mental problems.
The Salvation Army also works in association with a social enterprise organization named Goals UK, and group activities and training provide residents with plenty of opportunities to meet other people socially and network, so that they can make warm contacts and develop loving relationships. The reputation of the Salvation Army precedes it, so that job applicants living in lifehouses are not ratted with the same stigma brush as those who live in hostels, which have a reputation for violence and drug abuse. Thus, in solving the problems associated with homelessness, the Salvation Army adopts a holistic approach by looking not only at the specific problem of lack of shelter but at the problems of the entire person, so that solving the problem also involves the application of a holistic approach., This is much more effective in ensuring that people who were once homeless become useful productive members of society once they are rehabilitated and do not fall into the pattern of repeat homelessness, i.e., moving from the streets into temporary hostels and then back again.
The effectiveness of the Salvation army may lie partly in the fact that none of the workers or volunteers drink, smoke or gamble. This has its roots in the Christian beliefs of the organization, because most Salvationists are strong believers in God and Jesus. They believe that their bodies are the temple of God; as a result, the body must be kept pure, but smoking, drinking, drugs and a love for money are corrupting influences that soil the body, mind and soul. As a result, these individuals are also able to provide a good, Christian example to other people such as those who are homeless and in need, so that when these people are rehabilitated, they also tend to not fall back into the vices of violence, drugs, drinks, smoking, gambling or prostitution.
On an overall basis, therefore, it is obvious that homeless is a much more complex problem than merely being one of lack of shelter for some individuals. In the cold countries of Europe, being homeless in winter can be a painful experience which may cause death. Homelessness also has its associated problems, such as the individuals in question losing their sense of purpose and losing the important relationships in their lives. I feel that the work being done by the Salvation Army, especially through its lifehouses is very important and may well be the right way to solve the problem of homelessness. It is very true that most of us who live in apartments and houses are often reluctant to help the homeless people, even if we claim that we are sympathetic to them; most of us tend to adopt the Not-In-My-Backyard approach. Although the Government has set up hostels which are intended to provide temporary housing to the people who are homeless, the problem is that such establishments are all too often inadequately controlled and monitored, so that they literally become dens of drug and sexual abuse, as well as violence, making them unsafe for vulnerable homeless people. The stigma associated with these hostels may only exacerbate the problem of homelessness rather than solving it.
The approach of the Salvation Army is however likely to be much more effective, especially because the organization is also creating 900 jobs to help those who have been unemployed for a very long time. This is a long term solution to the homelessness problem. The Salvation Army is tackling all aspects of the problem – the mental problems, lack of purpose, providing training and the opportunity to develop friendships and relationships through group activities, as well as jobs. As a result, once-homeless people who are fortunate enough to find a place in the Lifehouses may emerge as better integrated individuals who are employable because of their skills. These individuals may emerge with a much better sense of self esteem and therefore develop the associated confidence they need to move into jobs and taking charge of their own lives.
* BBC News, 2010. “Airport chaos as icy weather grips Europe”, Retrieved June 17, 2010 from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8445613.stm
* BBC News, 2001. “Is homelessness still a problem?”, Retrieved June 16, 2010 from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/1689249.stm
* “Lifehouse: more than a place to stay”, Retrieved June 17, 2010 from: http://www1.salvationarmy.org.uk/uki/www_uki.nsf/vw-dynamic-index/E929AD4B0C72EF21802575F2004A6C86?Opendocument
* Maff Potts video, retrieved June 17, 2010 from: http://www.youtube.com/user/salvationarmyvideo#p/u/14/mWPph1-rtu0
* “Official homelessness statistics”, Retrieved June 17, 2010 from: http://www.crisis.org.uk/policywatch/pages/homelessness_statistics.html