OPINION: The Prince of homelessness

Lisa Harker, chair of the Daycare Trust

I'm not much of a royalist myself but given we have a monarchy, I would rather that it put its collective energies (not to mention wealth, power and profile) into achieving social justice for all British citizens.

Which is why I have to be pleased that Prince William seems to have put raising awareness of the plight of the homeless on his personal list of priorities.

On one of the legs of his recent 21st birthday tour, William made a special point of visiting a homeless project in Wales, a clear message (we were told) of his long-standing concern about the issue.

Now I may be overly optimistic in thinking that members of the royal family count Third Sector among their preferred reading, but you never know. So as William considers how best to shape his public role in coming years, I have a few suggestions as to what he could do to transform public perceptions about homelessness.

First, he could draw attention to the scale of the problem. The majority of homelessness is hidden: the number of people living in temporary accommodation vastly outstrips the number sleeping rough. Yet perceptions are shaped as much by what the public sees on TV as in their communities. So there is a need to expose the problem.

Second, he could spread the message that tackling homelessness is about more than providing a roof over someone's head. There is much more to being homeless than sleeping rough, and the route to becoming independent and fully integrated into society is often a long and complicated one.

It can involve ridding yourself of drug dependency. It may mean getting some help to be able to get a job. It almost certainly involves regaining self-esteem and self-confidence.

Third, William could publicise the fact that homelessness is not only a London - or even an urban - problem. He has already made a good start by visiting a homelessness project in Wales.

The many voluntary organisations working to tackle homelessness face the challenge of presenting homelessness to the public as it is: multi-faceted, complicated and difficult to resolve. Perhaps William could help them in their task?

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