Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Ghetto culture

September 25 2009
A row is raging over comments that hostels are "ghettos of desperation" A ghetto is generally defined as "a section of a city occupied by a minority group who live there especially because of social, economic or legal pressure," but it would now appear that the stigma attached to this term is also being applied to hostels. "Levels of drug abuse and dealing, alcoholism and violence are increasing, and it is time that something should be done about it," said Philip Burke, a trustee of the Simon Community. In a recent article in Inside Housing, Burke attacked the state of many of London's institutions, which he says "have become ghettos of substance abuse and desperation", where residents are preyed upon by drug pushers on a nightly basis; people with drug addictions are treated in the same way as those with mental health problems, the few staff are under-trained and support is inadequate. These comments have been condemned by Charles Fraser, chief executive of St Mungo's and member of the Pan-London Providers Group, who said these comments were "rubbish" and "from the vantage point of ignorance." This row has drawn battle lines between those of the view that there are many corporate figures benefiting financially from hostels and homeless charities in London, and the views of some of the larger providers. "By not providing suitable facilities, staff and training, money provided to the charities is being redirected from where it is needed most and," Burke said, "it is time that the taxpayers and supporters of the charities are reassured that their money is meeting its aim." Amber Place, from Homeless Link, stated that they are "committed to ensuring hostel staff are fully trained" and are aiming to employ "dedicated staff" to monitor training and improvement. But Burke goes further in his views, stating that in order to avoid corporate players benefiting from hostels and charities, he feels it is time to employ an independent governing body to oversee the management of hostels within the capital. "If the clients are to benefit, staff must have ongoing training and hostels need to be adequately staffed", he said. The problem with this is funding. The Pan-London Providers Group, created by the chief executives of the seven largest homeless charities in London, recently suggested reducing the number of beds in each hostel to improve quality, but with no obvious plan to increase the number of hostels in return. This row has continue to run, with claim and counterclaim appearing in the letter pages of Inside Housing, but as long as, in Burke's words, "there are people at the corporate levels with egos that will at best cover the Thames Gateway", it's certainly far from over. Correction: In last issue we misquoted Philip Burke in 'Ghetto culture.' He actually said: "there are a number of people within the homelessness sector with corporate power and with egos that would at best dwarf the Thames Gateway." We are happy to correct that here.