We’ve just read what to all intents and purposes is a regurgitated press release from Southend Borough Council on a campaign they’ve just launched to ‘help’ the homeless in the town: Help homeless on Southend High Street by giving to homeless charities not to beggars. You could be forgiven for thinking that this is about ‘tidying up’ Southend town centre before the Christmas shopping frenzy gets underway.

Cllr. Tony Cox makes a big deal about giving to local homelessness charities such as Harp rather than giving money directly to homeless people. Cox also draws attention to the problem of London boroughs shipping their homeless households out to Essex and the impact that has on the private rented market in Southend. As we’ve pointed out more times than we care to remember, what happens with the housing crisis in London has a direct impact on the situation in Southend and other towns along the estuary.

With Cox asking people to support homelessness charities and highlighting the impact of people being moved out of London, to all intents and purposes, it appears that he’s shifting the responsibility for dealing with the situation onto the voluntary sector and the blame onto the London boroughs. We would respectfully suggest that Cox, his fellow councillors and the relevant officers from Southend Borough Council take a walk around the town centre and they will see a temporary solution to the issue of homelessness sitting there in the form of numerous empty shops, offices and other buildings. If the political will was there along with sufficient funding, with the co-operation of the charities and voluntary groups that genuinely have the interests of the homeless at heart, these empty buildings could be converted into temporary shelters until a more permanent solution can be developed.

A genuinely permanent solution will only come when we have a society that sees housing as a natural right for all as opposed to a financial asset to be bought and sold. It will only come with an end to precarious working and piss poor pay that barely covers extortionate rents. Not to mention respecting people for the complexity of who they are rather than how much they earn or contribute to the bottom line. Currently, we endure a dog eat dog world where those who cannot contribute to the bottom line of the corporations are treated as less than human and discarded.

We’re in Southend quite a lot and have experienced very little in the way of so called ‘aggressive begging’. What we have seen are a growing number of people who have been chewed up and spat out by a dysfunctional political, economic and social system and left to fend for themselves on the streets. As far as we’re concerned, giving money to homeless people is an act of solidarity. What is also an act of solidarity is donating money, food and other items needed by the homeless to voluntary groups such as ONE LOVE Soup Kitchen SOUTHEND ESSEX.