Prince William has launched his ambitious five year campaign to end homelessness, declaring that “everyone should have a safe and secure home,” and that homelessness should be “rare, brief and unrepeated.” He kicked off the campaign with £3 million of funding from his personal charity and two days travelling the length and breadth of the country raising awareness of the issue in six locations and what he now plans to do about it.
Predictably the naysayers and critics came out in force. How can a person with three homes be credible on this topic? He is being too political. Homelessness will never be ended. What does he know about homelessness? Well, quite a lot actually but do not let William’s long term interest in the issue get in the way of a good criticism.
Any action he takes to do anything, support anyone, or try and provide help of any kind will always leave him open to the charge that he is too privileged to be taken seriously. It is not fair but inevitable that he will face these brickbats. This, however, is a serious and worthwhile initiative by the Prince and should be welcomed on its own merits. Homelessness is an area he has devoted much thought to and taken a personal and practical interest over many years.
When the King first established the Prince’s Trust in 1976 he faced similar criticism for meddling and interfering. As a former Princes Trust Mentor myself I have seen at first hand the value and importance of the work that is done. Forty-seven years on, who now could reasonably say the King was wrong to establish the Trust?
Over the years I have volunteered with several charities, including with Emmaus and the Salvation Army, to help alleviate the impact of homelessness. It can happen to anyone, often through no fault of their own, frequently because of illness. Homelessness and mental health issues often go hand-in-hand. A surprising number of former military people are to be found homeless. I have encountered people of all ages, professional people, skilled workers, the young, desperate and exploited, as well as the occasional ‘gentleman of the road’ who by choice lives outdoors – but they are to be found only occasionally. When I first went to work as an MP’s Research Assistant I met Mr Lane, formerly of the RAF, who each day when Parliament was sitting would make his way from his home on the streets to sit and often sleep in Central Lobby. He would use the lavatories to clean-up and would often be brought drinks and food by MPs and Parliamentary staff. When the Commons rose for the night Mr Lane would return to the streets. Central Lobby was as much his home as anywhere else.
Homelessness is a difficult issue to tackle. Its causes are frequently complicated. Prince William is right however to put it front and centre of public debate and his early work as Prince of Wales. He must wave off the critics and press on with this important project.