You can rely on Banksy to make a political point with a dash of humour. I especially like this picture of a street beggar and his sign; the play on words is especially clever. Which is why I’m slightly confused as to whether or not this is actually by him, as it’s also been claimed by Australian street artist, Meek. Either way, it’s a powerful image showing a black and white figure against a vivid red background and holding a sign saying “Keep your coins, I want change.”
Giving a homeless person change (money) is a short term fix; they can use it to buy food or drink, alcohol or drugs, depending on what they want most at the time. The point being made is that it is not short term change – in the form of money – that they really need, it’s fundamental political and social change which will solve the problem. Homelessness increases during recessions, and many people find that without a home they cannot get a job, and without a job they cannot get a home – it’s a vicious circle in a very real sense.
It is pictures like this which illustrate the difference between street art and graffiti. Street art carries with it a message which is at least interesting, sometimes amusing and often aesthetically pleasing; a lot of graffiti, put bluntly, is just an unintelligible mess. Unfortunately, police and council workers struggle to tell the difference. This particular image has been reproduced by a number of homeless charities as part of fundraising initiatives, unfortunately with very little effect in terms of policy change.
There is no simple answer to this question, and it’s huge; offering the spare room to a homeless person would work but it involves huge amounts of trust on both sides and for many people is simply not a practical solution. It shouldn’t be necessary for people to have to live on the streets. The housing situation in the UK is in a very dire situation and a considerable mess. One hopes that our new Minister for Housing has their head screwed on and can promote affordable housing for all – and if that means through Housing Benefit, then so be it.