Prince William, homelessness and a question of privilege

Push by the Prince of Wales to end homelessness has been welcomed by some, but is he the the wrong person for the job?

Prince William launches Homeward
Prince William pledged £3 million to Homeward, which aims to eradicate homelessness
(Image credit: Tim Rooke - Pool/Getty Images)

The Prince of Wales’s announcement that his primary philanthropic focus before he becomes king will be to tackle homelessness has received a mixed reception.

In a speech earlier this week, Prince William pledged £3 million as an initial contribution towards his ambitious plan, called Homeward, which aims to eradicate homelessness. However, some commentators have questioned whether the fund is significant enough while others have suggested that someone born into such profound privilege might not be the right ambassador for the issue.

‘A sensible choice, but slightly limited’

In his speech in Brixton, south London, Prince William said he hoped his five-year programme would “inspire belief throughout the UK and beyond that homelessness can be ended for good.”

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Taking on homelessness is “a sensible choice” for the Prince, said The Spectator. It is a “fairly uncontroversial cause” and one which is “unlikely to bring him into conflict with his father’s government”, the magazine said. “Yet the future king could do far more than the current, limited project – by turning some of his own land over to the houseless.”

“Whatever your view on equality… it would still, I think, strike you as piquant that a man with housing plenty beyond anything he could ever use would style himself as ambassador for the business of getting people off the streets,” agreed The Guardian’s Zoe Williams.

Yet away from the optics of who the messenger is and the scope of William’s own financial contribution, “what he can do is convene”, said Sky News’s royal correspondent Laura Bundock. “And it’s this power he wants to turbo-charge when it comes to homelessness.”

“The big question,” she said, is whether this will be enough to end the cycle of homelessness? But in Newport, Gwent, at least, one of the six locations being targeted, “there is optimism” that he might, she added.

Fran Richley, the operational manager at Eden Gate, a homeless charity in the city, told Bundock that “one of the main things we want to do is bring about change – not maintain the status quo. And it’s really exciting what His Royal Highness has been saying because that’s exactly where we’re at.”

The campaign is ‘not without risk’

Everyone can agree ending homelessness is a good idea, said Stephen Bush in the Financial Times, but one risk to the Prince of Wales, “is that instead of doing something that everyone agrees with but we aren’t sure how best to do – encouraging young people to set up businesses, say, or to enjoy exercise, or get out in the fresh air – he is instead doing something that everyone agrees with but that governments are historically reluctant to fund”.

Accordingly, his campaign “surely increases the possibility for awkwardness between the heir to the throne and the elected government, regardless of its hue”.

Taking on such a sensitive topic “pushes [William’s] political neutrality to its limits,” agreed Bundock. “But some say it’s what he has to do if he’s to prove his relevance with an ever-apathetic public.”

Yet if anyone can tackle the issue, it’s him, said Seyi Obakin, chief executive of the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, who spent eight years in social housing.

“I believe he’s in a unique position to bring people together, not just to focus on the problem, but actually to say, which solutions could have a lasting impact,” he told The Telegraph.

The greatest contribution the Prince can offer is to help make progress in addressing the stigma associated with homelessness, Obakin added.

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