Why Did The Policeman Cross the Road?

By Stevyn Colgan

Not so much police intelligence as intelligent policing

Friday, 4 March 2016

My middle name is Nostradamus ...

Hello Shedders

Well, the book is currently being typeset, photos and permissions are being sorted and all is well with the world. Barring nuclear war, zombie apocalypse or leaves on the line, the book is on schedule for its May release date.

And, in this past fortnight, I've been delighted to read that one of the theoretical social solutions I argue for in one of the chapters has become an exciting reality. It's almost as if I predicted it!

In Chapter 8 of the book I make a strong argument for a simple solution to the problems of homelessness: give people homes. Here's a sneaky extract:

Time and again, it’s been shown that giving someone stability and shelter will often break the cycle of their erratic lifestyle. A 2008 report by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research concluded that a local residential scheme designed to get homeless people back into work had saved the state £31,000 per person per year (for ‘state’ read tax-payers). And a self-build project run by Tyneside Cyrenians reduced the annual cost of tackling homelessness (through a reduction in criminal activity, medical interventions and dependency upon benefits) by 89% as a result of training, supporting and employing homeless individuals. In the five years prior to this project, the homeless participants had cost the public purse a total of £513,779. 

I then go on to look at some other amazing, and relatvely cheap, homeless projects before coming back with:

If we gave homes to homeless people, even temporary homes, we’d all be financially better off. But could we ever, as a society, become that philanthropic? The stark reality is that many of us work very hard to meet our rents and mortgage payments and the idea of someone bypassing that route leaves us feeling cheated. ‘Social benefits are supposed to have some kind of moral justification,’ says Malcolm Gladwell. ‘We give them to widows and disabled veterans and poor mothers with small children. Giving the homeless guy passed out on the sidewalk an apartment has a different rationale. It’s simply about efficiency.’ 

But the problem is growing [...] and it’s costing the tax payer an increasingly large amount of money every year. Is it time to give efficiency and compassion a go at solving the issue? As an old Greek proverb goes: ‘A society grows great when old men plant trees under whose shade they know they will never sit’.

In my 30 years as a cop, it became very clear to me that every solution involving people's welfare starts with stability. How can a child hope to avoid being drawn into crime when they have a chaotic home life or no adult role models? And how can someone have a normal life without a home address? Without one you can't get a job, open a bank acount, apply for a driving licence, get mail, access medical services ... everything starts with a place to live.

Well, that's exactly what the Canadian City of Medicine Hat has done. They've eradicated their homeless problem by giving homes to the homeless. No one in the city spends more than 10 days in an emergency shelter or on the streets. If you've got no place to go, they'll simply provide you with housing. 

Mayor Ted Clugston admits that when the project began in 2009, he was an active opponent of the plan. "I even said some dumb things like, 'Why should they have granite countertops when I don't,'" he says. "However, I've come around to realize that this makes financial sense." Clugston says that it costs about $20,000 a year to house someone. If they're on the street, it can cost up to $100,000 a year. 

"This is the cheapest and the most humane way to treat people," he says. "Housing First puts everything on its head. It used to be, 'You want a home, get off the drugs or deal with your mental health issues'. But if you're addicted to drugs, it's going to be pretty hard to get off them if you're sleeping under a park bench."

And the strategy has worked. In Medicine Hat, emergency room visits and interactions with police have dropped. But there was one change that initially surprised Clugston — court appearances went up.

"They end up dealing with their past, atoning for their sins," he says.

Isn't that an amazing story?

Homelessness isn't a lifestyle choice and it destroys human lives. But a fix exists if we have the altruism, the common sense (we'll all save money) and the humanity to extend a hand to help. 

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Ruth Curtis
 Ruth Curtis says:

Excellent and so straight forward. I wish more people would recognise that the easy solution is often the one that is staring you in the face.

posted 8th March 2016

Stevyn Colgan
 Stevyn Colgan says:

I do understand why some people would feel that it's 'unfair' - hey, I have to work hard to keep a roof over my head too. But the fact is that homelessness isn't generally a lifestyle choice and, once you're there, the structures of society make it very difficult to get out of it. It's not like you can just claim a plot of land, chop down some trees and build a home. A helping hand, just to get people started, is often all it takes. And there are thousands of empty buildings all over the UK - many owned by local authorities or government bodies - that could be used as temporary 'homes' to help people break out of the cycle of rough sleeping. And don't even begin to talk about how many empty office buildings there are in just London alone ...

posted 20th March 2016

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