Campaigners have criticised a homelessness charity for charging £140 to go to a conference

Streets Kitchen homelessness protest
Steve Topple

A homelessness charity has come under fire from grassroots campaigners over its decision to charge £140 to attend a conference about ending homelessness.

“Everybody in”?

Crisis is holding a conference on 11 June. Called Everybody In: How to end homelessness in Great Britain, the charity says the event promises to:

hear from sector experts and academics on the solutions presented in the plan and how, together, we can make ending homelessness in Britain a reality.

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The challenge facing Crisis, and its speakers, is that we’ve been here before. It held its 50th anniversary conference in April 2017, called Ending homelessness: what needs to change?. Since then, it’s been revealed that the number of rough sleepers rose by 169% between 2010 and 2017. Also, the number of households in temporary accommodation on 30 September 2017 had gone up by 65% since 31 December 2010. And both the number of households and the number of children in temporary accommodation had hit their highest levels since 2007 on 30 September 2017. It seems that charities have been unable to stem the tide of homelessness fuelled by successive Conservative-led governments.

140 quid, anyone?

At this year’s Crisis conference, speakers include Dame Louise Casey, who’s been working for homeless organisations for decades. She has worked in both the third sector and in government on issues relating to housing and homelessness. Yet despite the work of the organisations she’s represented, the estimated number of homeless people who died on our streets more than doubled between 2013 and 2017. All of this presided over by successive Conservative-led governments, with charities becoming more and more powerless.

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Also on the Crisis panel are a selection of lawyers, CEOs of other organisations, an academic, and a Conservative minister. Oh, and one Jeremy Corbyn. To go and listen to these “experts” speak will set you back £140.

Grassroots homelessness group Streets Kitchen and other Twitter users were unimpressed:

‘Talking shops’

Streets Kitchen told The Canary:

Grassroots groups on the front line are excluded from such gatherings as neither have the money or could justify the expense.

More importantly, where are the homeless voices too?

Such events highlight the inherent problems of the ‘homeless industry’. It’s geared around so-called charities who can somehow justify spending such money for another talking shop.

But Crisis is not the only charity charging large sums to debate homelessness at conferences.

From 2 to 4 July, Homeless Link is also holding a conference, called Under One Roof. But if you thought 140 quid to hear people in a “talking shop” was a lot, Homeless Link beats Crisis hands down. Because its fees to attend its event are anything up to £615, excluding booking fees.

Crisis said…

Crisis told The Canary:

Everything we do closely involves the voices, experience, and expertise of people who are homeless – and this includes our plan to end homelessness. The publication of the plan follows an eight month long consultation that put 280 people with lived experience of homelessness at its heart – around 30% of the overall number of experts consulted. We also have an experts by experience panel made up of people who have been homeless. They were involved throughout the development of the plan itself, providing oversight and guidance.

The ticket price for the launch of this plan covers the costs of the event while ensuring a number of free places are available for people with experience of homelessness – we have 29 confirmed guests so far who are or have been homeless, and are expecting more of these spaces to fill up. A Crisis client is one of our keynote speakers on the day, and delegates will also hear from people with experience of homelessness.

Without the input, knowledge and expertise of people with experience of homelessness, we would never have been able to write this plan. This launch event is an important opportunity for us to bring together policy makers, homelessness experts, and people with lived experience to examine how we can make homelessness a thing of the past.

But Streets Kitchen took issue with part of Crisis’s statement:

Homeless Link said…

Homeless Link told The Canary:

We are a membership organisation for frontline homelessness services, and our annual conference is an opportunity for managers and staff to come together to learn about the latest best practice and new approaches, enabling them to improve the services they offer for the people they support. Feedback from delegates shows that they value the learning it provides, and feel it makes a positive difference to their work. We charge for places at our conference in order to cover the costs. However, we are aware of wanting to be inclusive and keep prices as low as possible.

Involving people with lived experience of homelessness in our work is important to us, and we are proud of the variety of ways in which we do this. Experts by experience are involved at all stages of this event, from suggesting topics to be included, to jointly producing and conducting workshops alongside staff, and attending as delegates at no cost.

Ending homelessness?

But Streets Kitchen told The Canary:

If we are going to be serious about resolving homelessness, we must have homeless people directly involved and those grassroots groups nationally, directly assisting. They certainly could never afford £140.

While both charities claim to have homeless people – or those with direct experience – present, Streets Kitchen has a point. When you have organisations that are structured in a top-down, hierarchical manner, do the voices of those at the bottom (in this case, homeless people and rough sleepers) get properly heard at the top? With masses of bureaucracy and procedure in the way, maybe sometimes they don’t.

A paradigm shift is needed

The homelessness crisis in the UK needs direct action from groups like Streets Kitchen, not least because of the often immediate risk to life. But moreover, because the bloated third sector industry in the UK is fast becoming unfit-for-purpose. Crisis, founded in 1967, has been speaking on behalf of, but not always for, homeless people and rough sleepers for decades. And yet the past eight years have seen both those populations’ numbers spiral out of control.

It’s almost as if whatever strategy Crisis and other charities have doesn’t work. Or rather, it hasn’t realised that homelessness is an ideological, political, and societal problem. One that no number of chuggers on our streets and well-meaning talking heads at conferences will change. ‘Ending homelessness’ will only come with a paradigm shift in both our political systems of power and our economic ones. All the conferences in the world won’t change them.

Get Involved!

– Support Streets Kitchen. Also support Refugee Community Kitchen and StreetVetUK.

Featured image via The Canary

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