Fighting the good fight

25 April 2019

Chief executive Mike Barrett has been at the helm for almost half of Porchlight’s 45 years. Here he explains how he and the organisation have weathered the political storms of the past two decades.

Being part of the fight against homelessness and poverty is a great privilege. It’s also one that is fraught with difficulty.

There is a rough sleeping crisis in this country that’s stretching homelessness services to breaking point.

Sometimes the challenges can feel insurmountable but my 20 years of leading this charity have given me the courage to carry on, knowing that we can succeed as long as we keep the vulnerable people who use our services at the heart of what we do.

Why am I confident that we can succeed? Because the fight against homelessness – giving everyone a safe place to call home – hasn’t always been this tough.

Significant strides have been made before, notably back in 2003. The government had ring-fenced funding for organisations working to house vulnerable people, giving dignity and opportunity to those who needed help.

But in 2009, the homelessness sector lost the backing of central government. The ring-fenced funding was removed and shortly afterwards austerity measures – funding cuts and welfare reforms – began. More and more people were driven onto the streets as the holes in our social safety nets widened.

The local governments we work closely with were forced to make impossible decisions about how best to use their ever-shrinking budgets. And charities like ours faced unprecedented demand for our services.

A big challenge – yes – but also an opportunity for change.

The new financial pressures made us more determined to look at ways of preventing people at higher risk of becoming homeless from ending up on the streets.

These high risk groups include people with mental health problems, or drug or alcohol dependencies, young people let down by their families and friends just because they identify as LGBT+, or vulnerable adults fleeing abusive relationships.

The work to rebuild what has been taken away from people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness is a constant struggle.

Admittedly, there have been times – particularly over the past few years – when I’ve felt we might be defeated by the social injustice of the government’s policy framework.

My frustrations would have boiled over, had I not had such a committed and dedicated Board of Trustees, a fantastic team of professional and hard-working colleagues and, of course, the support of my family.

At a time of unparalleled political uncertainty, we owe it to the people we support and our communities to keep fighting against homelessness and poverty, to keep trying to reduce the human cost of the government’s failures. And we won’t give up until we’ve got a fairer society where the most excluded are included and everybody has a safe place to call home.