Councils seek to ban soup runs

The Manna Society is an excellent organisation working in the Diocese of Southwark to provide food, clothing, medical advice, and a hot shower for people who are homeless. You can even get your toenails cut. Anyone who has been on a walking pilgrimage for any length of time will appreciate the importance of this service. My parish supports them a little by sending up clothes and food and the proceeds of fundraising events from time to time. I must check whether we have sent anything recently because their Christmas newsletter (pdf 278Kb) which I read today, reminded me of the importance of their work.

On page three, there is an article by the Campaigns Worker, Bandi Mbubi with some disturbing news. Apparently, the London Borough Councils are preparing a Bill to set up designated areas where the distribution of food and refreshments will be banned. Exemptions would be made for sporting events or for companies giving out free samples to advertise their products. Thus the Bill is aimed squarely at the soup runs.

The rationale behind this quasi-Stalinist nonsense is that soup runs create "public order issues" ("an ishoo, an ishoo, we all fall down") and that people who use soup runs may be former rough sleepers saving money. So flippin' what! If someone is hard-up enough to go and get their tea from a soup run on the street, I think it counts are a reasonable act of Christian charity to provide for them.

Then there is the pious self-justification that soup runs foster dependency and do not enable vulnerable people to make contact with services that could help them. That would be the services that have helped them so much that they are on the street, I suppose. It is advisors from places like the Manna Centre that actually enable homeless people to negotiate their way round the bureaucracy of the "services" that are supposed to help them.

The excellent article by Mental Health Nurse Marc Thurgood in the same issue (page four) explains in simple terms, that even London Councils could understand, just why it is that people end up on the streets. In many cases, rough sleeping is part of the aftermath of local authority care as a child, service in the armed forces, or a spell at Her Majesty's Pleasure.

The Manna Centre and other voluntary initiatives pick up the pieces after the "action points" of the last policy-making committee meeting have proved useless. In any society there will be a need for good people to offer basic material help to the poor. Our society is not currently blazing a trail in reducing this need. As Bandi Mbubi points out:
This proposed ban tests the very foundation of our faith and may not stop many of us to continue the distribution of food and refreshments as before. What is a decent and peaceful activity may turn into a series of confrontations in which people would be hurt and councils and other authorities brought into disrepute. It is simply immoral and unworkable to enact such a law.
If you are looking for a suitable destination for one of your charitable donations over Christmas, the Manna Centre would be a good choice. See their Financial Donations page

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