Irrespective of whether there is a direct causal link to policy changes in the UK, evidence of homelessness would seem to indicate there is a growing problem. By evidence I mean I can see it with my own eyes. There are many more sleeping rough in Bristol this year than last.
Like many, I walk past those sat on the ground with a pang of guilt and try to rationalize my feelings with an internal monologue about working on the bigger picture. I occasionally buy the Big Issue or offer sandwich and sometimes against my better judgement drop coins into a lap. I recently spotted a young lad in a doorway looking particularly vulnerable. His story was familiar; abused, just left the care system (an oxymoron from his point of view), destitute, and desperate not to be housed with people who were likely to bully, abuse and attack him again. So, the previous night and many more, he had slept where I found him, lonely, afraid and apparently hopeless. But what to do, eh? Well, not vote Conservative for a start.
I spent a Christmas volunteering for Crisis in London. On the first day I met dozens of disheveled, withdrawn people, their darting eyes at odds with their hangdog look. Three days later, after the simple kindness of hot food and somewhere safe to sleep, with these same people I played 5 a-side football, helped on the computers, drank tea and chatted about politics. We played music, argued over trivial pursuit and complained about family. Same as home really, only without the football.
I have never met a homeless person who didn't want to be a productive member of society. For some that will be easier said than done, but it was testament to their intent that once fed and washed, they turned their thoughts to on-line applications for courses and jobs. Maslow, it turns out, had a point.
When I walk past the homeless I don't want to feel guilty anymore than you do. I don't even want to have to volunteer for Crisis again. I want to help change radically a society where homelessness is seen as a burden on our communities that should be dealt with by 'the system', but presumably using someone else taxes. I angrily, guiltily, hopefully want to live in a country that looks after people due to compassion rather than obligation, including those that arrive as refugees, enabling everyone to become a productive member of society. This is not about charity campaigns or crisis appeals for donations. It is about more fairly sharing the earth's resources in a way that delivers social and environmental justice for all.
Yet for over 20 years we have relied on 'trickle down'. The Conservative's Big Society is a more recent con to plug the gap. The rich are getting richer at the poor's expense and the rest of are clinging onto middle-classdom whilst running to keep up with next month's bills. Low oil prices and a shameless Chancellor duped the electorate.
But the backlash has begun, firstly the #greensurge and now #jezwecan, the pendulum is on the move despite best efforts of the establishment to keep it steady. The right wing press is in outright revolt, embarrassed left wing commentators are speechless in disbelief and the moderates are nervously waiting for things to return to normal. Can this be democracy in action once again? Perish the thought!
The next few months are NOT about a return to the 70s. I believe that through progressive alliances, at national and local level, we have the opportunity to develop a much broader understanding that in a more equal society, everyone does better. The road to 2020 and beyond should be about making a more equal, sustainable society a reality and as someone said to me recently, it is about the wave, not the surfer.