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Giving him the Bird

May 18 2009
Anger at comments made by John Bird in The Pavement and on television Here are some of the responses made to John Bird's comments in The Pavement (issue 18), and in other media. The first, from a reader, and the last, comment directly on our interview. However, the second is an open letter from Tyneside Cyrenians, and refers to the contents of our interview and other comments made. We'll print any riposte from Mr Bird: "Why was John Bird's theory about homelessness being caused by drug and alcohol addiction, and the way to treat homelessness to force all homeless people into rehabilitation clinics, left to go unchallenged? Not all homeless people have drug and alcohol addictions.There are many normal, decent people on the streets who are simply homeless because there is a huge lack of affordable accommodation. "John Bird's stereotyping of all homeless people as junkies, winos and lunatics was very insulting to many of us on the streets." Angus Meigh Reader "We welcome with open arms any discussion which places the serious and complex issue of homelessness within the public consciousness and at the door of local and central government. "At best, however, the latest contribution from John Bird is so far removed from providing a genuine solution for homelessness that it could easily be dismissed without further concern. "In reality, however, many of John's points are insightful and he is obviously an intelligent and articulate individual who has made an outstanding contribution to providing some of the solutions to ending homelessness. "Homelessness is a complex issue, and the solutions to homelessness are equally as complex. Effective solutions require courage, passion, innovation and the creation of best practice. This demands that the voluntary, public and, increasingly, the private sectors work together. By doing so, we can ensure chaotic lifestyles are stabilised, and real pathways are provided for social and economic inclusion for these vulnerable individuals. "To put it simply, it's about providing common sense opportunities for individuals to improve their lives. Opportunities as we know are there for an individual to take, not to be enforced. "It appears that the 'whether they like it or not' school of thought (The Pavement, February, 2007) is the key factor to John's controversial opinion. Likewise it is the key flaw to his proposal. "By grouping, labelling and lumping the homeless as one homogenous group we fail to see that each individual responds differently to different solutions and that a person-centred approach will, in the long term be the only provision to be offered. You can not provide this successfully under duress. "'The people who are homeless through addiction are feckless, unstable, unreliable, incapable of holding down a job, feeding themselves or cleaning themselves' (Daily Mail, 17th February, 2007). "Wrong John! Not only wrong - irresponsible too. "What gives us the authority to say that? We have proved it, and we challenge you to come and see first-hand the work that we do at first-hand." Tyneside Cyrenians Open letter (edited for length) "John Bird makes some interesting points in The Pavement interview - some of which I agree with, but many of which I do not. "I share his views on the need for more and better funded services for people with addiction problems for example, and very much agree with the representational democracy he proposes. I also support his call for attention to the benefits trap - a more responsive and less bureaucratic tax/benefit system would be a great improvement on what we have at present. "I must disagree, however, with his analysis of why people are stuck in hostels and in 'maintenance' for so long. The main cause is actually the housing crisis, and not in any desire by hostel providers to hold on to people longer than necessary. "There is a huge and increasing shortage of affordable rented accommodation, and - crazily - over the last 25 years we lost more houses each year under right-to-buy than were being built. "Until we begin to remedy this, any arguments about better services are academic, as people will still be stuck in hostels even though they are ready and able - with the right support - to move on to more independent living. "I am also worried by his call for more compulsory treatment. Leaving aside the fact that not all homeless people are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, and that many people who are addicted continue to have productive working lives, there are both human rights and pragmatic considerations to such ideas. "People who have succeeded in overcoming addictions always say that it was only when they made the decision to tackle the issue that they finally began to make progress. If that decision is taken away, won't the result just be more relapses and more people in the revolving door?" Alastair Murray Coordinator, Unleash