‘Change Liverpool’ Initiative Under Fire

A city council cabinet member has led a strong backlash against what has been labelled a ‘dangerous and dehumanising’ homelessness campaign in Liverpool.

The ‘Change Liverpool’ initiative is a new approach that aims to persuade people not to give change to rough sleepers or those begging in the city – and to instead donate to a new community fund, reports the Liverpool Echo. The fund will rely on public donations that will be used to provide grants to those in need of support to get off the street and into new opportunities. Managed by the Community Foundation for Merseyside, the scheme has been launched in partnership with Liverpool City Council, Liverpool Parish Church, the city’s Business Improvement District and homelessness charity The Whitechapel Centre.

But, just a few hours after its launch, the campaign was facing strong criticism – including from an influential city council cabinet member. Concerns have been raised about the messaging of the campaign – including graphics that suggest any change given to people on the streets will automatically be spent on drugs and alcohol.

Cllr Sarah Doyle, the council’s lead member for development and housing took to Twitter to object to the project. She said: “I’m extremely disappointed to see Change Liverpool perpetuating these messages and further dehumanising homeless people. I’m going to be raising my concerns about the values behind this project immediately.”

In a further response, she added: “Lots of councillors have raised similar concerns with me over the last 24 hours and I’ll be requesting that the cabinet urgently looks into the project. We should not be encouraging any degrading stereotypes, the rhetoric that I’ve seen so far from the project extremely shaming and humiliating.” The comments come at a time when the council itself and other cabinet members have been supportive of the campaign.

Others working in the homelessness and housing sectors have also expressed their concerns. Kevin Pilnick of the Big Help Project, a Liverpool City Region charity tackling poverty, said: “Not having this. If I want to give direct I will. Don’t need to be told where to give my own money thanks. Who are Change Liverpool? Not having them just appearing and dictating as if the know it all about a hugely complex problem.”

Those behind the Change Liverpool say they believe this new approach is the best way to help get people off the streets, with fears of more people being forced into rough sleeping during the winter months. At the campaign launch last week, former gas engineer Jay Keenan, who was previously begging in the streets of Liverpool to fuel his addiction, said the new approach was the best way forward.

He said: “Change Liverpool is the right approach. We think giving money, food or a blanket to someone suffering on the street is helping them. It’s not. You’re just keeping them there. It’s a basic human instinct to help but although you may feel better about that support, in the long term all you are really doing is helping to slowly kill them by keeping that person on the streets.”

Crispin Pailing, Rector of Liverpool Parish Church, said: “Homelessness is something we cannot ignore and we all struggle with the right thing to do when asked for money. But giving £2 to someone on the street ultimately helps them stay on the street. We want you £2 to deliver targeted help to get people into homes and into work.”

Carol Hamlett, director at Transforming Choice, said: “We welcome the Change Liverpool initiative; society has become so desensitized to seeing people on the streets and in doorways, it has become the norm to give money directly to the individual. If 100 people beg for three days per week for a year, and receive £100 each day, that adds up to over £1.5m each year. We’d like to see this money collected into a fund that could support people with a deposit for a flat and enable them to turn it into a home – money for furniture, clothes or a training course, therapeutic sessions or detox and rehabilitation.”

She added: “Imagine the difference this fund could make to people’s lives. Liverpool has always been a trailblazer, let this city be the first city where rough sleeping and begging is not the norm, a city in which we recognise that people are worth more than a couple of pounds. Support the Change Liverpool initiative, and really make a difference to the lives of homeless people in Liverpool.”