SHORTLY after Sam on March IN a lire swept through the hostel for homeless women run by the Missionaries of Charity in Kilburn. north London. Nine women died.
The tragedy received massive publicity, aided no doubt by the fact that the sisters belonged to the order founded hy Mother Teresa.
An official enquiry was launched by the Brent local authority. It reported that the "tangled web of legislation" relating to hostel fire precautions, was largely to blame for the disaster. The prospects looked good for a change in the km.
Four months later an iimendment known as the "Kilburn amendment" tabled to the Housing Bill in the House of Lords by Lath Vickers. It would have gi% en the
Secretary of State the power to insist that local authorities ensured that proper .fire precautions were installed m'all hostels housing more than three families or six single people.
rte amendment was rejected. , Clearly a Scandal exposed is lar from being a scandal removed.
There arc undoubtedly M Ps. including Mr John Stanley the present Housing Minister, who i.ire personally sympathetic to the victims of homelessness. However. the brutal lacl is that concern for the homeless.is not a vote catcher.
Nor is homelessness by any means the only social evil about which Parliament seems reluctant to act; it is a shameful tact, for example, that during the debate on penal affairs in the Commons oA o weeks ago --the first such dehatc since this Government took ollice there were never more than 25 M Ps present.
Yet once again there has been no shortage of media coverage:
According to Paddy Coulter Of the Campaign for Homeless and Rootless (CHAR). this only sea es to underline the fact that any campaign must he built on something more substantial than temporary outrage at some particular tragedy. Above all it mull be k1 ell-informed on every aspect or the prohlem.atid have support front influential members of the general public.
He argues that it is only over a long period that change comes about and says that it is here that statements such as the one issued by London church leaders in May can play a crucial role: without that sort of pressure there is nothing to lorce Ill's to take tne subject seriously.
The need for detailed knowledge of the relevants facts is increasingly leading charities like the Catholic Housing Aid Society to make a deeper investigation of social and political structures us well as getting inyolved themselves in the political process.
CI now has a full-time research worker looking into questions of immediate relevance to current political debate.
In the field of political action CHAS last year joined with the Southwark Diocesan Council for Social Aid in issuing a General Election leaflet called "Housing at a lime of decision: an appeal to Christianswhich set out the facts about the current satiation and called on cdndid,ite, to "develop policies
%%inch help the vulnerable."
All this seems reasonable enough. However, at the moment charities which attempt to tackle the root problems of poverty face an extra difficulty in that the laws governing their activity technically prohibit "political action".
Several organisations have protested strongly about these laws, which are based on the preamble to an Act passed in the reign of Elizabeth I. But the Government armour ced recently that it had decided against making any change.
The question for Ct IAS may therefore now he: which tangled web of legislation must be unravelled first — the one which operates against the homeless or the one which hampers its own efforts to help them''