A society defines itself by how it treats its most vulnerable people. Many in our society are vulnerable for many different reasons, but some of those who need our help the most are homeless, including rough sleepers.
Here in Wyre Forest, we have our share of those who need our help. I am pleased that Wyre Forest District Council is looking to accommodate the homeless in a purpose built temporary accommodation, adding to the existing provision we already have.
The problem is, there seems to be a lot of muddled thinking behind the location.
Over a decade ago, the local council compulsorily purchased a business on Bridge Street in Stourport. Lloyds Garage had to make way for what was going to be a fantastic development, opening the glorious canal basins and enhancing Stourport’s tourist economy immeasurably. The only problem was that the development proved to be too difficult to make viable. Developer after developer looked at it and no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t make the numbers add up. The council turned the cleared site into a car park, in the heart of the tourist district.
So, the council had two problems: a vacant site they owned as an under-performing asset, and a homeless issue that brought with it income opportunities if solved. To the bean-counters, the solution was obvious – build a new homeless centre on the vacated Lloyds Garage site, generating income through delivering the important help to these in need.
Whilst the sums look excellent, the problem is that those using the new centre will be in the heart of a noisy, vibrant tourist town, with all the late-night, sleep-depriving activities this brings. Homelessness is usually accompanied by unemployment, yet the nearest Job Centre Plus is in Kidderminster, a four-mile bus ride away. For someone needing to go there weekly to sign on, only given financial help once a fortnight, that starts to be a challenge. Meanwhile the local traders are dismayed. They have been promised, for years, a major project that would boost visitor arrivals and local economic activity. They see a complete U-turn, the council delivering something that fails to deliver everything it promised.
I will say it again, and again, and again. We need to do everything we can for the homeless who need our help. But in doing it, we must consider their needs first. Wyre Forest District Council has used no other consideration than one of finance when assessing delivering for this need. This decision is not one based on compassion.