|Image Source: Independent Liverpool|
Take a stroll up Lord Street in the city centre, and you'll be greeted with an all too familiar scene. Several homeless people scattered erratically on the landscape, inhabiting shop doorways, begging at the fringes.
Homelessness is a swelling epidemic that, in these economically challenging times, visibly plagues the streets of Liverpool, most notably the city centre where the number of people sleeping rough would appear to have multiplied substantially in recent times and, it would appear, continues to rise.
It's hard to imagine that, in these enlightened times, anybody should want for shelter.
Homelessness is a modern crisis that blights the city's image both in the eyes of residents; reactions ranging from concern to despair, and from the perspective of tourists and critical outsiders.
You can scarcely walk 50 yards in the city centre without happening upon one of society's dispossessed curled up in a shop door-way in a vain attempt to seek shelter. Walk another hundred yards and you'll see another.
We have a moral responsibility to care for the disadvantaged in society. Liverpool must be seen to be tackling the problem head on.
Continued inaction, be it through inertia or ineptitude, will only cease to deflate and diminish our collective conscience as a community, tarnishing our reputation for being a compassionate people with a strong sense of social justice and basic human decency.
The strength of our commitment to social justice will dictate the size and scale of our response to this grim affliction. Nothing less than a full and far-reaching assault will suffice.
There's no fix to be found in indifference. The problem isn't going to retreat and disappear. Nor is this the time for gimmicks. Clearing the shop doorways and moving people on is a quick fix and a purely artificial one at that.
There needs to be more high quality hostels staffed by well-trained and sympathetic staff well-versed in the issues facing homeless people such as mental health, drug and alcohol dependency and chronic unemployment.
This will require an investment, the commitment of public funds.
I've heard anecdotal reports of hostels operated by the YMCA and Salvation Army imposing what amounts to punitive service charges on its residents. That's right, inflicting further hardship on the already destitute.
The picture painted by word-of-mouth is nothing less than bleak. A passive layer of organisations staffed by detached officials completely barren of any concept of duty of care.
Far from Christian, it seems the YMCA can be a deeply unfeeling beast.
The charitable sector is failing the homeless.
That is why the public sector has to step in and step up to the mark. That will require investment.
To clean the streets, not just superficially, we must commit ourselves to expanding access to quality accommodation and to support workers with the skills to rehabilitate and reintegrate those who have fallen on hard times and found themselves consigned to the fringes.
I believe that John and Joan Everyman understands that society has a duty of care to the most vulnerable in society and will be supportive of the expansion of state-provided services and solutions to tackle the homelessness epidemic with which we are faced.
Perhaps it's now time for a full and frank debate about homelessness and the devastation it wreaks both on a forgotten underclass and on wider society.