The Problem of Homelessness
People become homeless for many reasons. Often, you can trace the problems back to childhood: people who have suffered abuse and excluded from school easily drift into crime and drug abuse, and eventually find themselves homeless.
Other people have a 'normal' childhood, do well at school and benefit from Higher Education; they get a good job and enjoy a successful marriage, and then for some reason it all falls apart. Perhaps the marriage breaks down, they start drinking, move into a bedsit, the drinking gets worse, and the job is lost. Drink and debt drives them to sleep upon a friend's floor for a few weeks, then they argue with the friend and end up on the streets.
Life as a homeless person is so miserable - brutal, painful, dangerous and disempowering - that most people start drinking to numb the pain and end up taking one or more drugs to help them cope. The stresses and the drugs and the resulting poor health make it harder to cope with feelings of depression or paranoia, or can trigger mental problems that were not evident before.
So homelessness is a core issue that touches on many of the deepest problems people face in our society today. There are very few people for whom homelessness can be addressed as a standalone issue: for most, it is bound up in so many other issues the situation can seem to be hopeless.
The BCAN Homeless Forum
BCAN (the Bristol Christian Action Network) arranged an initial meeting in September 2001 for groups working with homeless people, and the positive feedback from that first meeting encouraged them to establish the forum as one of their regular events. The BCAN Homeless Forum has been meeting every two months since then, operating as an informal network, and is the only meeting open to any organisation in Bristol working to address the problems of homelessness. We meet in the evening so that the many voluntary sector groups can take part.
Over the past three years, we have made some significant progress towards working together more effectively: we have established some shared standards and guidelines; we have coordinated opening times and closure periods across different services; we have brought together and published a good deal of information, facts, and news about the problems and the provision of services for homeless people - as paper documents, and on the website; we have developed a shared training programme for volunteers and other interested people; and through the meetings we have been discovering something of the amazing variety of organisations and projects working to help homeless people in Bristol.
At the start of 2005, the forum had 84 people on its mailing list, drawn from 37 different organisations across the city. But there is a limit to what we can do as a purely informal network: to represent our members effectively, we have to know who our members really are. Maintaining a large mailing list is not enough. And some services, inevitably, will cost money - so we need a system for collecting and deciding how to spend it.
So we have decided to establish a membership and simple constitution, so organisations can decide whether they wish to be involved and identified with the forum. The meetings will remain open to the public, so nobody will be disadvantaged by this development.
The Public Launch
For some time, we have recognised the need to raise the profile of the issue of homelessness in Bristol, to improve the public's understanding of the various related problems, and to celebrate the work of the many organisations working to combat it.
We are taking the opportunity of the newly formed membership to organise a 'public launch' of the forum - to help us achieve these objectives, maybe to gain some new members, and, we hope, to gain some new supporters for our member organisations.
Invitations have been sent out to the people on our various
lists, but you don't need an invitation card: anyone who has an
interest in homeless people is welcome to come along to
elim@bristol in Jamaica Street from 6 - 8 pm on Friday 15 April.
We will be providing light refreshments, so please let us know if
you plan to come, to enable us to plan the catering - you can
contact Ailsa McWilliam at Caring at Christmas, PO Box 14, Bristol
BS99 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read more about the BCAN Homeless Forum and the ways we
have been tacking the issues of homelessness by visiting the BCAN
web site at www.bcan.org.uk/l1_homeless.html. Homelessness is a
massive and complex problem, but by working together we can make a