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Soup runs: outreach and befriending

May 18 2009
Claims made by central government, local authorities and some larger homelessness agencies have been "hysterical", says Forum A new survey has scotched criticism of over-provision of soup runs. The Soup Run Forum, the organization which aims to bring together all the soup run workers in London, has presented a new survey of the soup run activity in central London. The forum, which was joined by the highest numbers of workers at its latest meeting at the end of March, examined the results of the survey, carried out in February by volunteer researchers from homelessness agencies. The results were discussed by the members of the forum as well as council authorities, including representatives from Westminster Council and the Metropolitan Police Homelessness Unit. Researchers visited all the known soup run locations over the course of a week to count the number of soup runs and "to find out the reality on the ground." The Forum pointed out that the research shows the claims over the number of soups runs made by critics in central government, local authorities and some larger homelessness agencies have been "hysterical." In the past, many authorities have said that over 60 soup runs operate in central London. The survey instead identified 32 different groups offering food and other services at five locations between Westminster and Lambeth. Of these 32 soup runs, 19 operate once a week; four run twice a week; and seven go out less frequently, typically once a month. In addition, only two groups go out in the early morning. Researchers found that the day on which the most soup runs operated was Wednesday, with nine soup runs. On Saturdays only four runs ran in the whole central London area. Alastair Murray, coordinator of Unleash and chair of the Soup Run Forum, said: "This survey refutes claims that there are over 60 soup runs. On some nights of the week, there are as few as four groups across the whole of central London." He added: "We want to see recognition of the valuable outreach and befriending work that is done at no cost to the taxpayer by the groups involved in soup runs." Mr Murray believes that local authorities and larger homelessness agencies are missing a trick in their opposition to soup runs, as soup run volunteers have established a vital dialogue with people who are street homeless and who, for whatever reason, are not engaging with the help on offer from mainstream agencies. Tim Nicholls, director of the Simon Community, the charity whose work includes soup runs in central London, added: "The debate about the provision of soup runs to London's rough sleepers has been a distraction from the real issues. For the hundreds of people sleeping rough every night, what is required is a wide range of approaches to help tackle the loneliness and isolation experienced by homeless people, and soup runs are a vital tool for helping with this." However, Inspector Malcolm Barnard, of the Metropolitan Police Homelessness Unit, challenged this view, expressing his concern that soup runs might interfere with police work. He claimed that soup runs might obstruct the policing work in finding "[those] undesirable, dangerous people; ones that we have been chasing for a long time." The Forum then discussed how to address this issue, proposing that the police unit share information about wanted people with the soup run workers. Inspector Barnard responded: "How are you going to give up somebody who you know I am looking for?" The Forum, according to a press release by Housing Justice Unleash, "acknowledges that some claims of over-provision have been valid," but says that the new survey counters the claim that there are soup runs "falling over each other" to feed homeless people. As to the importance of the soup run work, opposition Westminster councillor Guthrie McKie said they are "an important tool" within the homeless industry, and added that he was "appalled" when the idea of building- based services was knocking around in Westminster in the early 2000s. "The services have proved not to be working, as the ones with severe mental illness are often left out and cannot be given good care", he said. This is a debate that will continue, and one The Pavement will continue to cover.
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