Saturday, 23 May 2009

Homelessness whitewash

I was frustrated this week to read the report of the AGM for one of two Manx government misrun homelessness pseudo-charities (see
I was on the steering committee that set up Kemmyrk around two years ago. I was so involved I even named the charity (‘Kemmyrk’ is Manx Gaelic for ‘Shelter’), so my sorrow is well informed.
I am saddened because I know how much public good will there was to solve the problems and how it has been utterly betrayed, mostly by government staff on six figure salaries who are, in effect, employed only to come up with bogus solutions while avoiding government expenditure or effort to eliminate absolutely solveable and particularly Manx problems. I am also saddened because I know the few genuine good guys involved in Kemmyrk, and therefore that they mean well but are fighting with their hands tied behind their backs.
Right from the start it was obvious Social Services and local evangelicals were pulling the strings. Suggestions and comments we made at the steering committee meetings never even made it to the next meeting, and at each new meeting we arrived to an agenda set elsewhere.
People who didn’t attend the meetings mysteriously became officials, and an agreement by steering committee members not to stand for membership of the official charity committee was forgotten on election night, when evangelicals none of us had met appeared out of the blue with a crowd of supporters and got elected.
Then there’s the laughable comment in the story that: “Information and statistics on homelessness can be difficult to obtain because the problem is often hidden”, and further that: “A homelessness database was established in May 2008 and all agencies likely to come into contact with the homeless were asked to put details on this anonymous database. The statistics will be collated and analysed at the end of the 12-month period.”
That is utter tosh, and whoever at Social Services supplied the story to IOM Newspapers to reprint verbatim knows that.
I and one other steering committee member, along with Fiona Robinson, attended the meeting of government agencies at which the database details were to be thrashed out. A two page questionnaire provided by Shelter was offered as an ideal template . The public sector time wasters who could be bothered to turn up and claim overtime disliked that so much they reduced it to a ‘manageable’ 14 questionnaire, then took it away and further reduced it to 10 questions.
Curiously, most of these were directly or indirectly about racial origin. Even curiouser, none of the questions left would produce evidence of the major problems which cause Manx homelessness, such as the racism, sexism and homophobia of evangelical Christians and relevant public sector staff (some are notoriously both), their unavailability for advice or help at key crisis points, slum landlords and in particular properties run by front companies for local politicians, the absurd qualifying rules for local government housing which mean, in effect, you can only join the long lists after 10 years island residence and 5 years continual residence in one town, and so on, and so on.
Then there is: 'A multi-agency housing option programme will include input from health professionals, guidance on housing issues, benefits and finance, assistance in funding and job careers advice and training in basic maths, English, IT, social and life skills, designed to improve opportunities for funding and sustaining accommodation.'
Actually that already exists – twice!
It exists once as a program at David Gray House, the local bail hostel run by the Salvation Army. As the chairman and secretary of Kemmyrk are, coincidentally, the local Salvation Army officer and the manager of David Gray House you would think they had noticed.
It exists again as a service run between the probation service and the prison and based at the Department of Home Affairs. That is also run in conjunction with David Gray House, and the relief family liaison officer at the prison is one of the key figures at Graih, the other government run homelessness pseudo-charity.
Finally there is the worrying news that: “To try and reduce the number of young people leaving home, Kemmyrk is working with St Christopher's UK and the Department of Education on a peer education scheme.”
For the benefit of off-island readers, St Christophers UK got the contract to run secure accommodation for Manx kids after the previous service provider, also faith-led, lost it because of a double murder at a kids home. They put in by far the lowest bid and it shows. The local youth professionals I talk to, without exception, regard them as worse than useless and warn that it is now a matter of when, not if, another death or serious tragedy happens in a Manx government run care facility for kids.
In short, the Manx government are paying or taking advice from the very people abused kids leave home to avoid in the first place.
In addition, the only database capable of getting to the root of Manx homelessness has been doctored. When it first reports - which will not be to the general public - no evidence of the cause of the problem will be found, because those who know they are to blame have ensured any relevant questions cannot be asked and that evidence gathered.

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