Sunday, 5 October 2008

Homelessness, Sweet Homelessness

The Kemmyrk newsletter dropped through my door this week.
Kemmyrk (Manx Gaelic for 'Shelter') is the island's homelessness charity (in theory), and I was on the steering committee that set it up last year. In fact, I even named it.
But I doubt Kemmyrk could get accepted as a bona fide charity anywhere except the Isle of Man, because the hands of government and faith groups who now benefit are too obvious.
I got involved from the first public meeting - partly because I have a 20 year record of campaigning against Manx homelessness, partly by being the only person in the hall without a vested interest to volunteer, but mostly to ensure the parties planning to steer the venture could not just rubberstamp what had been previously agreed in private.
At least that one was a genuine 'public meeting', packed with ordinary people wanting to get something done. However, after another two months trapped in a room with rabid evangelicals I had great empathy with Alan Johnston.
At the second public meeting launching the charity the rot was setting in, with a last minute venue switch from a government building to the island’s biggest Baptist church. This meant evangelicals, not the general public, attended and duly elected their stooges to run the charity.
I left so depressed that I quipped in the next print column of Clinging To A Rock that perhaps now we needed a charity to protect the homeless from being exploited and humiliated by the Manx homelessness charity.
I still hung on in there, most importantly to ensure Kemmyrk and the government set up a database to which all relevant agencies supplied information via a questionnaire, which would gradually establish the real nature and forms of Manx homelessness, and demolish the folk myths peddled by faith groups trying to beg donations for non-existent 'community work'.
I was partly successful. The questionnaire model used was supplied by Shelter, and was detailed enough to reveal factors in homelessness like racism, sexism or homophobia, as well as government ineptitude or inter-departmental lack of communication. Then the 'invisible hands' whittled it down to a 10 question form, thus removing all evidence of their own role in perpetuating such problems.
The newsletter is worrying. It uses photos obviously lifted from US evangelical material,which suggest to me those involved favour the US model - run down public sector services and hand them over to churches as pay-off for the 'faith vote'.
It also mentions residents being 'invited' to join a community liason group for Kingswood House, the government building leased to Kemmyrk as a night shelter. Actually local residents and politicians demanded the committee to prevent repetition of the situation with David Gray House - the Salvation Army bail hostel - which Braddan Commissioners (local council) were astonished to find is being relocated to their area after the Department of Home Affairs pushed through planning permission without even consulting them.
Significantly, two David Gray House officials are now the chairman and secretary of Kemmyrk - though to be fair I proposed the secretary myself as at least he had the decency to turn up to some steering committee meetings and prove his worth! Also, to be fair to the local faith community, I know there are Christians involved in pushing for homelessness action as frustrated as me.
Still, there will be many Manx people in housing dificulty this winter, and neither government nor their puppet charity are likely to tackle the root causes - which, to me, centre on faith based bigotry and government 's lack of interest in doing their duty to any Manx citizen with a less than six figure income.

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