Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Bite the hand?

December 08 2010
A reader picks a bone with Jeremy Swain

Dear Editor,

I read that Boris might as well "give money straight to his local drug dealer and cut out the middle woman/man" ('Boris slammed by homelessness charity', The Pavement, November) The words came from Mr Swain, chief executive of Thames Reach. Now if these words were from somebody not involved in the homeless sector, I would have treated the comment as completely ignorant, but coming from a man who has been in the homeless sector since 1980 and was a street outreach worker for four years?

The only conclusion I can to come is that since 2001, when since Mr Swain became chief executive of Thames Reach, he has lost touch with the day-to-day lives of homeless people and sits in his ivory tower writing reports on how wonderful he and Thames Reach are so he can tell the government that their funding is richly deserved.

But then, on the very next page, lo and behold! Mr Swain is off again, objecting this time to sleep-outs. If the effort Mr Swain puts into objecting went into campaigning about far more serious issues - for instance, the Vagrancy Act, which is covered by The Pavement - and started calling the government to account about homelessness issues, then I believe he would be fulfilling his role as chief executive. But what is the old saying: “don't bite the hand that feeds you"?

Yours sincerely,

Andy O'Brien
Kentish Town

We put Mr O'Brien's letter to Jeremy Swain, and he sent this response:

I'm sorry that your reader feels that my comments represent the views of someone who sits in his ivory tower and that I should be cam- paigning about more serious issues. Thames Reach's views on begging are well known. Through our 'Killing with Kindness' campaign we have been drawing attention to the fact that most of the money given by the public to people who beg is spent on crack cocaine or heroin. This is not only the experience of our outreach teams working on the streets but is also confirmed by the police, who report that when they test people arrested for begging, around 70 per cent test positive for drugs. Many other homelessness charities support our position on this issue, and our campaign has been adopted in towns and cities including Newcastle, Liverpool and Tunbridge Wells. My views about sponsored sleep-outs are personal ones rather than being part of a Thames Reach campaign. Put simply, I feel that the issue of rough sleeping is too serious to risk trivialising it through sleep-outs, and that charities should find more imaginative ways of raising funds.

Your reader may also be interested to hear about two other campaigns that I hope he might approve of. First, we have been campaigning relentlessly against super-strength lagers and ciders, urging the Chancellor to increase the tax on these drinks to make them more expensive so that people with drink problems buy cheaper, weaker drinks instead. We believe that this will lead to improvements in health and make it easier for people with drink problems to take the step to abstinence. Secondly, we have been prominent in campaigning against elements of the welfare reforms being introduced by the Coalition government, particularly the highly punitive 10 per cent reduction in housing benefit that will be imposed on anyone who has been on Job Seekers Allowance for a year. We can't claim, and don't aim, to keep everyone happy, but I hope that at least some of this meets with your reader's approval.

Best wishes,

Jeremy Swain
Chief Executive, Thames Reach