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Valuing soup kitchens: Resisting Westminster City Council’s anti- homeless bye-laws Caroline Hunter, University of York

Dec 24, 2015



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  • Valuing soup kitchens: Resisting Westminster City Councils anti- homeless bye-laws Caroline Hunter, University of York
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  • Outline What happened in Westminster Consultation responses and forms of misrecognition Alternative forms of recognition Legal Care Conclusion
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  • The soup kitchen ancient.... The practice of offering food to homeless people on the street has a long history within Britain, dating back to the Middle Ages at least (Johnsen et al, 2005; 232) Soup kitchens as a problem: existing charitable night refuges, free dormitories, public soup-kitchens, and the innumerable doles of bread, groceries, coal and so on were most mischievous in that they tended to promote vagrancy (Humphreys, 1999; 95)
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  • .... and modern Steps should be taken: to discourage initiatives such as soup and clothing runs which can undermine efforts to get people into hostels. (SEU 1998; 9).
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  • Recent history of controlling soup kitchens in Westminster London Soup Kitchen Forum Building Based Services: The main purpose was to provide services for rough sleepers inside buildings rather than on the streets, in the hope that this would remove any incentive for people to appear on the streets as rough sleepers in order to access services (Randall and Brown, 2006; 2). London Local Authorities Bill 2007 Review (2009) recommended better co-ordination and joint working Byelaw consultation 2011
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  • Tough love as a way to end homelessness Tough love justified by suggesting that criminalization laws are part of a coherent and compassionate welfare state policy designed to end homelessness (Feldman, 2004) Failure not just of maldistribution but also of cultural politics and misrecognition
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  • Misrecognition of homelessness 1. Complete non-recognition, where the homeless are aligned with the abject dirt, rubbish, smell 2. The conservative individualist image of disruptive subjects responsible for their plight unconstrained, profane outlaws of public space 3. A compassionate but degrading view of the homeless as helpless victims... to be sheltered and kept alive with a bed, a blanket and some soup. 4. A therapeutic vision of clients with pathologies to be reintegrated into society through interventions. At this point they are not non persons but persons in the making. Feldman, 2004
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  • Non-recognition Focus on residents and providers, not homeless persons Soup runs attract dozens of people and undoubtedly create problems for local communities in terms of the detritus they leave behind (cups, food trays, split food etc) and are unsettling for people going about their daily business as a large group of people can be intimidating, particularly when arguments arise in the group waiting to receive soup and food. (Thames Reach) Day or night, our area smells unpleasant. WCC clean- up as best they can but they cannot remove the traces completely
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  • Conservative individualism
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  • The wrong use of the space Possible ideas are a second-hand book market, an antiques market or a farmers market selling quality produce. To promote the Piazza as a place where people can relax and unwind from the hustle and bustle of Victoria, we will consider small scale arts and cultural programmes, ., where people will be able to enjoy some of the unique aspects of the area.
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  • Helpless victims People only go to soup runs if they are desperate
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  • Persons in the making We reject the notion that underpins this proposal and suggests that rough sleeping and particularly vulnerability is in some instance a life style choice - which needs enforcement action taken against it - rather than a situation which requires society and statutory and voluntary agencies to actively work together to engage the individuals involved as quickly as possible and then provide a holistic package of support for as long as is necessary to help them out of homelessness and back into society. Crisis Through our extensive experience of working with this client group, in Westminster and elsewhere, we believe assertive, intensive outreach backed by current mental health and enforcement legislation achieves the best results. We believe in getting to people early, never giving up, assessing well and moving them off the streets with a sustainable, well-planned offer. (St Mungos)
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  • Other forms of recognition Legal personhood human rights approach Space of care ethics of care
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  • Human Rights Proportionate response Westminster Disproportionate Housing Justice; Liberty
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  • Interlegality Clash of different scales of law Could the ECHR provide a vehicle where the conflicts between the constitutional rights that operate at the level of the nation-state and legal governance process that operate at the local/urban scaleerupt into view Valverde 2009
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  • Soup kitchen as a space of care Complex transitory spaces of care (Johnsen et al, 2005) Sustaining life Inclusion and exclusion Visibility soup runs traverse the path of least resistance, marginal spaces Marginal in local service networks
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  • Homelessness and the voluntary sector Homelessness sector increasingly populated by large corporatist organisation which represent a voluntary sector which is significantly tied into government approaches and agendas (Cloke et al, 2007; 1091) Buckingham (2009) 4 types of homelessness organisation 3 contract with government:
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  • Non-contracting organisations With one exception, the types of services they offered would not in any case have been eligible for contractual funding: they included providing cooked meals in a church hall on a weekly basis, and redistributing donated food and clothing, for example. These organisations were resourced entirely by voluntary donations and were staffed mainly by volunteers (some employed a very small paid staff). Being independent from government performance monitoring and the need to compete for contracts, these organisations were in many ways free to pursue their own aims and values. All but one of these Community-based Non- contractors were faith-based and had strong links with local churches. The providers placed a strong emphasis on offering acceptance to service users and building relationships with them. (Buckingham, 2009, 117)
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  • What is different about these organisations Christian majority by faith based charities or church groups (Cloke et al, 2010). Westminster: 65% (WCC, 2005) Unprofessionalised/volunteers attempting to articulate a theo-ethical sense of agape and caritas, a genuine openness to and an outpouring of unconditional love towards the other (Cloke et al 2010; 99)
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  • Contrasting forms of care non- coercive Space of care: open door, non-judgmental, catering for those excluded from other facilities Soup runs tend to be noninterventionist, accepting of difference, and aim to bestow upon individuals the dignity to just be without demanding anything in return. (Johnsen et al 2005, 329) (cf Lancione 2014)
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  • Rejection of coercion Crisis: Progress made, banning soup runs is likely to entrench the opinions of soup run providers who are resistant to change without providing any better solutions... Housing Justice: knowledgeable volunteers committing their own time and resources to reach out with food and companionship to those who are most vulnerable in society ought to be welcomed An alternative form of ethical citizenship (Cloke et al 2007)
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  • Other narratives to the neo-liberal citizen On the contrary, subjects may prove to be more troublesome than that, acting within, between and across governmental and other discourse to plot courses of action (and inaction) accept bend and refuse the subject identifications on offer and knit together other possibilities of identification, action and mobilization (from the impure resources of political and cultural lives) Clarke et al, 2014
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  • Conclusion the value of the soup kitchen An alternative to misrecognition Something to be valued at a human rights level against local law Providing an alternative form of ethical citizenship