Monday, 29 August 2016

Don't Trust the Government

Last time I was in Sydney I took a walk along the harbourside, through Barangaroo and up into Millers Point.  Thereby hangs a tale.

Over the last couple of years I've been intermittently researching the redevelopment of public housing estates in NSW, looking at the strategies adopted by the state government and the evidence which supports or contradicts these strategies.  Millers Point is one of the less glorious tales I've been following.

The area was one of the first in Australia to be occupied by the British, with the First Fleet setting up a flag there in 1788.  It was named for the windmills that stood on its exposed clifftops in the early to mid 1800s, grinding flour for the residents of Sydney Town.  Throughout the 1800s it was one of the more down-at-heel locations in Sydney, with the shabby docks backed by a complex of modest homes, boarding houses, doss houses and pubs inhabited by sailors, wharfies and various other workers - although there were also some palatial homes up on the hilltops where the smell wasn't so bad.

The 1890s depression and an outbreak of bubonic plague at the turn of the century gave the NSW government the impetus to clean out the area and engage in a wholesale redevelopment.  Initially the Sydney Harbour Trust focused on rebuilding the docks themselves, but in the years before and after the first world war it also rebuilt the housing, developing hundreds of modest terrace houses which it rented to dock workers and their families in what was, effectively, some of Australia's earliest public housing.

Until well into the second half of the twentieth century the wealthier residents of Sydney saw Millers Point and the other parts of the inner city as undesirable, even dangerous locations inhabited by poor people. Then the growth of the city, the departure of most of the polluting industries and the increasing popularity of inner city living started to draw greedy eyes to these working class areas.  An attempt to turn the whole of Millers Point and The Rocks over to apartment towers in the 1970s was thwarted by the activism of highly unionised working class residents and the Builders Labourers Federation's green bans.

The result was that Millers Point remained in the hands of what had by then become the Maritime Services Authority, and the area was eventually heritage listed.  Instead of high rise towers the NSW Housing Commission built the controversial Sirius Building, a brutalist set of small cube-like apartments to be used as public housing.  However, by the late 1980s the wharves around Millers Point and Darling Harbour had fallen into disuse.  The Maritime Services Authority, having no further use for its housing, turned it and its tenants over to the Department of Housing.

This transfer was not a bad outcome for the residents at the time.  Certainly, management by the public housing authority was more restrictive and at times even punitive than the rather lax rules sketchily enforced by the MSA.  On the other hand, their tenancies were preserved and the affordability of their rents guaranteed in a way that would never have happened if the housing had simply been sold to the highest bidder.  The essential outline of the suburb as an affordable, livable community for people on low incomes was preserved.  Its long-time residents still had a home.

However, the transfer was followed by a long period of underfunding of public housing which began in the mid 1990s and continues to this day.  One result of this was that the NSW Housing Department and its various successor bodies (housing is currently owned by the Land and Housing Corporation) struggled to keep up with maintenance.  This was particularly bad news for Millers Point residents in their century-old houses, more so as the heritage listing requires special (read expensive) materials in styles no longer readily attainable.

As the years passed the issue became increasingly critical as the housing fell further into disrepair and some of it was sold.  The issue came to a head in 2013 when the government proposed selling all the housing, citing the high value of the land on which it stood, the huge cost of heritage-compliant repairs, the size of the public housing waiting list and the substantially greater amounts of replacement housing that the sale would finance in the outer suburbs.

The residents fought fiercely, staging a "Save Millers Point" campaign, festooning the community with banners and posters and launching petitions to save various long term residents from eviction.  A friendly economist helped them develop an alternative proposal which would see some of the houses sold to fund renovations on others, resulting in the kind of mixed income community the NSW Government is set on creating in other former public housing estates like Minto, Bonnyrigg and Airds-Bradbury.

It was all to no avail.  In March 2014 the then NSW Minister for Family and Community Services, Pru Goward, announced that all the public housing in Millers Point would be sold.  Even the Heritage Council couldn't save it - just this month the NSW Environment Minister has rejected its unanimous recommendation in favour of heritage listing on the Sirius Apartments and their residents are in the process of being evicted in preparation for sale and redevelopment.  The remaining residents are still fighting, but the battle is lost and their numbers are dwindling as residents are progressively relocated to other areas.

What can we learn from this story?  Sadly, the lesson is a depressingly familiar one.  Don't trust the government.  If the housing had been turned over directly to its residents in the 1980s, they and their heirs would now be benefiting from the hugely increased land values.  If it had been turned over to a tenant managed cooperative the tenants would be able to implement their preferred plan and leverage the value of the land to fund maintenance.  Instead, they are now being forced from their homes and given nothing in return but a tenuous foothold in a new community.

Of course the financial dilemmas the government faces in places like Millers Point are real, although somewhat exaggerated, but they are not the full story.  The huge cost of upgrading the properties now is the result of decades of neglect.  The expense of heritage repairs is dictated by government legislation which, as we see in the decision on Sirius, can be changed or overridden.  Indeed, the NSW government could be seen as engaging in one of the most widely used methods of circumventing heritage rules - allowing properties to deteriorate to the point where renovation is no longer feasible, at which point disposal or demolition becomes the only option.

Governments are not neutral players in the world of property development.  Their decisions about appropriate land use and the scale of development are hugely influential in deciding land values and bestowing or withholding riches.  The low income residents of Millers Point and other housing commission suburbs may be politically aware and well organised, but they are no match for the property development industry.  Developers have far easier access to ministers than poor people.  They make handsome donations to political parties and this means their calls get returned.  Nor do they have to rely on friendly economists doing pro bono work in their spare time to make their financial case - they hire the best and brightest and pay them handsomely.

The heritage listing of Millers Point was intended to recognise not only the age of the houses but the status of the suburb as an enduring working class community.  The transfer of the housing to the State housing department in the 1980s should have preserved this heritage and the homes of hundreds of low income households and ensured they, and others like them in years to come, had secure homes in the inner city.

Yet in 2014 the heritage listing was used as justification to move them out, and the ownership of the housing by the state government ensured that they had no avenue for appeal.  They were there at the pleasure of the government and could be moved on at will.  They left with nothing.  The buyers of the property may possibly keep the suburb looking the same but it will not be the same.

You may argue that they will be as well housed, and perhaps better, in their new homes and that in addition the funds will provide similar homes for others.  Yet the residents have made it quite clear that while they will still be housed, they will not be at home.  In any case, what is being offered these new and continuing tenants?  In the parlance of 21st century Australian housing bureaucrats and ministers, social housing is "a pathway, not a destination".  In other words, they are not to think of this housing (which they have somehow won in the lottery that is the hugely oversubscribed public housing waiting list) as their home but as temporary shelter, somewhere they are passing through on their way to their true home which perhaps they will not see this side of heaven.

Meanwhile, right across the road from Millers Point is Sydney's newest rich persons' enclave, Barangaroo.  Thanks to this decision its relentlessly upmarket housing, opulent casino, pretty harbourside walkways and sanitised, carefully policed public spaces will be kept largely free of unsightly poor people.  Unlike the nearby Ultimo Pyrmont redevelopment of the 1990s, the Barangaroo developers are not required to make any contribution to the development of affordable housing.  The government has made it clear that the proceeds of the Millers Point sales will be spent in less prestigious locations.

There is, indeed, one law for the rich and another for the poor.  "Social mix" is now  established policy for public housing redevelopments.  Public housing tenants are to make up no more than 30% of the communities which were once exclusively developed for them.  They will thereby get the benefit of mixing with home owners and private tenants and learning their more productive and responsible ways.

Such mixing, however, is deemed unnecessary for the super-rich, who are to be permitted to keep their ghettos.  It's a shame, because they will miss out on the opportunities for social modelling that would be presented by living alongside poorer neighbours.  They will be deprived of the chance to learn thrift, frugality, mutual aid and community spirit from low income social housing tenants.  Instead we will simply perpetuate their culture of entitlement.  Their horizons will be limited and this will reinforce their social irresponsibility in living off tax breaks and government handouts instead of placing them on a pathway to responsible independence.

Talk about creating dysfunctional communities!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Olympic Ideals

I should say at the outset of this post that I really enjoy the Olympics.  The tension of the contest, the sense of history being made and celebrated, the personalities large and small.  I enjoy the grace and technical skill of the gymnasts, the sheer power of the throwers, the speed and endurance of the runners and swimmers, the idea that these young people have focused single-mindedly on becoming the best they can at some arcane discipline.

I enjoy the wins, of course, but what I enjoy most are those occasional moments of sporting ethics and friendship between athletes.  Like the Swiss pole vaulter helping the young Kiwi bronze medallist to clean up her face for the hundreds of photos that were about to be taken of her.

Or the two women, previously strangers, who fell in their 5,000m heat and then coaxed each other through the rest of the race to finish together.  Or the tradition among decathletes of sharing the victory lap with the whole field.  These are the moments that give me hope, where people reach out across languages, nations and cultures and express their common humanity.

High Ideals
The Olympic Charter contains some really lovely ideals.  For instance, the first two Fundamental Principles of Olympism are as follows.

Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

A little further on, the Mission of the International Olympic Committee includes, among other things, the following lofty goals.

to encourage and support the promotion of ethics and good governance in sport as well as education of youth through sport and to dedicate its efforts to ensuring that, in sport, the spirit of fair play prevails and violence is banned;

to cooperate with the competent public or private organisations and authorities in the endeavour to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace;

to encourage and support the promotion of women in sport at all levels and in all structures with a view to implementing the principle of equality of men and women;

to protect clean athletes and the integrity of sport, by leading the fight against doping, and by taking action against all forms of manipulation of competitions and related corruption;

to oppose any political or commercial abuse of sport and athletes;

to promote a positive legacy from the Olympic Games to the host cities and host countries;

We all know that reality rarely matches our high ideals, and that there is not as much peace, love and fair play in the Olympics as we (or, if we take their official word for it, the IOC) would like.  Yet we want to believe that they are trying, that the ideals are still there alongside the failings.

So every four years we willingly suspend our disbelief and enter into the enjoyment of this world of peace, camaraderie and fair play.  We admire the athletes who win, those who do their best and those who play fair and form lifelong friendships.  Then after two weeks it's all over and we go back to our everyday joys and sorrows.

Sadly, this year it's been harder than usual to buy into the illusion.

Clean Athletes, Dirty Countries
For a start, the "protection of clean athletes" seems to have largely gone by the wayside, so much so that said (presumably) clean athletes have started taking the law into their own hands by calling out and shunning athletes who have previously been suspended for doping.  The IOC dithered right up until the eve of the event over what to do about Russia after the World Anti-Doping Authority exposed rampant corruption in the country's testing regime.  

Finally they flicked the matter to individual sports federations, with the result than outside of the track and field competition Russians have largely been allowed to compete.  They have duly won a swag of medals and been booed wherever they go, as have other convicted dopers like US sprinter Justin Gatlin and Chinese swimmer Sun Yang.  

The issue kind of takes the shine off those moments we all love.  Usain Bolt has confirmed his status as the greatest sprinter ever, but what if it all turns out to be a drug-assisted sham?  He assures us it isn't and we so want to believe him, but we've been let down before - Ben Jonson, Marion Jones, Gatlin, not to mention Lance Armstrong.  The state of doping control is so dubious that anything is possible.

Whatever happened to the "spirit of fair play", the "educational value of a good example", the "respect for universal fundamental ethical principles"?  Well, they fell at the hurdle of another broken ideal, to "oppose the political or commercial abuse of sport and athletes".  

Not so many years ago, the Olympics was restricted to amateur athletes.  The restriction was removed, not so much because of a principled decision, but because it became impossible to enforce.  In an age of mass media, athletes being paid to compete was the least of the IOC's worries.  Successful athletes could now be paid to promote anything from sportswear to fast food, and if these promotional duties left them with the time to train and compete full time, so much the better. The trouble is, such riches are only available to the winners.  There is a huge financial incentive to cheat.

More inexplicable, in a sense, is the propaganda value of Olympic success.  It doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but governments of all flavours somehow seem to buy the notion that having winning athletes shows that you are a great country.  Hence they pour millions of dollars into coaching, training facilities, financial support of athletes and innovations in sports science.  Increasingly these dollars are linked to "outcomes" or "results" like winning a certain number of medals.  No-one wants to be the athlete who "lets their country down" so publicly after all the millions that have been spent on them, and no sporting official wants to be the subject of an intrusive review into why they failed to achieve their targets.

Of course "doping" and "performance enhancing drugs" are relative terms.  What else are elite athletes and their coaches and sports scientists paid to do, if not enhance performance?  "Doping" simply means using a substance that is on WADA's list of banned substances.  A substance that enhances performance but is not on the list is fine.  The list changes all the time.  Last year Meldonium was not on it, and lots of athletes used it.  This year it has been added and a number of people have been suspended for continuing to use it for a bit too long.

Of course all athletes use performance enhancing substances - energy drinks, protein supplements, stimulants, special diets designed for their particular training needs and so forth.  As the recent controversies in Aussie Rules and Rugby League show, athletes think nothing of taking a course of injections to improve their performance, and nor does WADA unless the injections contain something on their list.

All this performance enhancement is expensive.  It is no accident that the top of the medal tally is a list of the world's economic heavyweights - the USA, Great Britain, China, Germany, Russia, Japan.  The biggest performance enhancing substance is not a steroid or a stimulant, it is money.

In what way, you have to ask, is this fair competition?  What is its contribution to a "peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity"?  This seems to be just the opposite, a kind of bloodless proxy war between superpowers.  No wonder some (or all) of them cheat.  There is no such thing as cheating in war.  As nationalism hardens and fascist parties gain ground all around the world, it is hard to see this changing any time soon.

The Olympic Legacy
There have been two very bizarre police incidents in these Olympics.  In one, a group of US swimmers claimed to have been robbed at gunpoint at a petrol station.  Everyone believed them - after all, Rio has a huge crime problem.  Everyone but the police, who are habitually suspicious and investigate stuff before reaching conclusions.  Turns out the swimmers were lying.  They had actually trashed the service station toilet and then been asked to pay for the damage by armed security guards.  So, not so much victims of the notorious crime rate as contributors to it.

However, the gold medal for bizarre goes to the arrest of an elderly Irish official, dragged out of his hotel room by police and charged with selling Olympic tickets on the black market.  What's bizarre about this story is not the arrest, but the crime itself.  To whom was he selling these tickets?  Who would buy on the black market when you can simply turn up at the venue and pay at the gate?

Most of the events at these games have taken place in half-empty stadia.  Foreign tourists were frightened off by Zika virus and the crime rate.  Locals seem to have more pressing concerns, like what to eat and where to live, especially those displaced to make way for these under-used facilities.  Brazil's government is in crisis and a substantial part of the population believes there were better ways to spend $8b in a country where millions of people are homeless and hungry.  Perhaps when the Olympics are over they will be able to sleep in the empty stadia.  After all, very few of the sports these facilities are designed for are of much interest to Brazilians.  Like Athens before it, the Olympic precinct is set to become a hugely expensive white elephant.  Indeed, in a sense it already is.

People Like Us
We like to think that in Australia we are more enlightened than this.  However, one of my great frustrations about the Olympics is the ease with which this festival of internationalism can be portrayed as being all about us.  Sure, we watch the big names and big events (Usain Bolt) but the nightly news, the daily round-ups, the news stories are all about how the Aussies did.  An Australian taking part in a race-off for ninth place will take precedence over a German throwing for gold.  How many of China's 26 gold medals featured on our TV screens?  We interrupt something else to cross to the javelin and see the Australian thrower try to better her sixth place, then after she has thrown we cross back.  We announce the decathlon result by informing our viewers that the Australian came 14th to the American champion, but neglect to mention who placed 2-13.

Of course the Seven Network, like their commercial rivals before them, tell us that this is what their viewers want to see.  Maybe they are right, but why is this the case, and does it matter?  After all, it's only sport.

I would suggest that it's the case because Australians are progressively becoming more and more insular, more and more self-focused, and this matters a great deal.  Our right wing parties (and I include the Liberals here) have become successful by demonising the "other" - Aboriginal people, Muslims, asylum seekers, poor people - and proposing more and more draconian methods to "control" these "problems".

The issue is like the face of Janus, or Poor Edward with a devil twin on the back of his head.  Its kind, friendly face is these smiling or tearful, almost exclusively Anglo athletes in green and gold doing their stuff on the world stage.  Its ugly face is the asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru, the remote Aboriginal communities where life expectancy is twenty years shorter than mainstream Australia, the detention centres where young people are abused and their abusers protected, the bombs falling on civilians in Iraq and Syria.  All of these things are supported and enabled by our ability to look away, to focus only on people like ourselves.

This makes the Olympics a huge wasted opportunity.  There are 207 countries competing.  The athletes come in all genders, all sizes, all skin colours, a veritable Babel of languages, a wide variety of faiths and beliefs.  They come from poor families and rich, from villages and farms and big cities, from the tropics and the snow.  Each has their story to tell.  The Olympics could make such a contribution to global understanding, to the "service of humanity and the promotion of peace".

Yet we, and those who feed us information, choose to tune out of all that, to see it as simply a colourful backdrop before which people like us perform.  If only we could use it as an opportunity to learn that in reality they are all people like us.  Then the Olympic charter would start to mean something again.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Naive Charity

I was recently involved in a workshop where someone complained about the propensity for the wider public to support projects for homeless people that don't actually help.  The particular example she singled out was Street Swags, a charity founded in 2005 by young Brisbane woman Jean Madden.  Madden invented a weather-proof sleeping bag, and her charity raises funds to manufacture them and distribute them to rough sleepers free of charge so that they can sleep warm and dry in all weathers.

Among her many other awards, Madden was named Queensland's Young Australian of the Year in 2010.  In the past month or two she has been in the news for less pleasant reasons - sacked, sued and charged in the criminal courts with fraud for stealing money from the charity she founded.

This kind of scandal is certainly not the norm in the charitable world, but supporting charities like these is very popular.  The 2016 Young Australians of the Year are two Brisbane men by the name of Lucas Patchett and Nic Marchesi.  In 2014 they started a charity called Orange Sky Laundry, which operates a team of mobile vans that go to public places and wash homeless people's clothes for them.  They have since been feted across the country.

If you see a media story about homelessness, chances are it will feature some similar service - a food van, a bus that drives homeless people to appointments, a redesigned park bench that's easier to sleep on, and so forth.  It is a favourite stock news story - the generous ordinary man or woman who devotes his or her life to helping those less fortunate and receives in turn their eternal gratitude.

Because of my colleague's comment, I've been thinking a lot about these type of charities in the past few weeks.  Was she being unnecessarily harsh?  You might think so.  After all, here are some nice young people who are putting a lot of effort into doing good.  Why criticise?

The question is a fair one, but I think the critique stands up to scrutiny.  Madden, Patchett, Marchesi and others working on the same model are well intentioned but they are also naive.  They want to help homeless people, but in the end their interventions leave them exactly where they are.  At best, they are marginally better off for a short time.  At worst, the intervention unintentionally leaves them worse off than it found them.  For instance, bringing food vans into inner city parks, or distributing camping gear, can increase the visibility of homeless people, intensifying the safety fears of other users and amplifying voices calling for them to be "moved on".  Sometimes these hostile voices prevail, and moving on can make homeless people's lives a lot worse.  They would have been better off left alone.

I don't want to sound holier than thou about this.  In fact, in the past I've been involved in some counter-productive interventions myself.  None of us is perfect.  Still, the analysis I am presenting here is not just a matter of opinion, and it is not controversial among housing and homelessness professionals and researchers.

When I first started working in homelessness there was a prevailing view that some people were not "housing-ready".  To house such people was to set them up for failure.  Instead, we should focus on helping them to address the factors that led to their homelessness - their mental illness, drug addiction, or whatever - after which they could be successfully housed.

A growing body of evidence suggests that this is counterproductive.  Homelessness has such a huge impact on a person's mental and physical health that any efforts to help them with other issues will be swamped by the homelessness itself, and they will always remain ill, addicted and "unready".  All the best homelessness services now operate through a "housing first" approach - house people, then support them to remain in their housing and address the problems which may either have caused or resulted from their homelessness.

Of course this is not easy and some of these attempts will fail.  If we simply house people and don't support them with the right services they may indeed abandon or be evicted from their housing and end up back on the street.  But the chances that they will succeed are astronomically improved by being housed first, particularly if they are provided with good quality support at the same time.

So why are the young men from Orange Sky Laundry not helping people into housing, where they will have access to a laundry in which they can wash their own clothes?  Why do Madden's clients have to make do with a swag and not also get a bed to put it on or a roof over their head so they don't have to keep it under covers all night?  Why do we persist not only in allowing, but supporting and resourcing these acts of naive charity?  Why do their founders win awards while those who operate much more effective services are virtually invisible?

I think there are a few reasons.  The first is that many of these founders are, indeed, young and naive.  They simply don't have the hard-won knowledge of those who have been working for years in this field.  Yet this doesn't explain why they have successfully raised funds and won swags of awards, and why no-one had gently redirected their energy into something that will actually help.

I think this is explained in large part by the fact that their donors tend to be just as naive, and happy to remain so.  The best way to attract donors is to present a simple, compelling story about a person, and offer a simple (cost-effective) way to address it.  If you donate $80 you can provide a homeless person with a street swag.  The person your $80 helps will probably be a person like the scruffy, bearded middle aged gentleman in the photo - a full-blown homelessness stereotype.   If you are feeling particularly generous, a donation of $400 will swag up a whole family - presumably a family of five, although the family is not pictured.  You can donate to Orange Sky Laundry even more cheaply - a mere $6 will wash someone's clothes and you can cycle your cleanliness contributions up from there.  The man in their video tells you how much he loves the service, in case you weren't sure.

This kind of cheap and easy solution feeds our desire to believe that nothing is fundamentally wrong in our community.  If people are homeless, this is largely because they have chosen to be so.  Their situation is perhaps unfortunate, and we should extend them some kindness and tolerance, but ultimately there is not much that can be done, except to make their lives a little more comfortable.  It feeds our illusion of a stable and safe society in which people are happy in the places they now occupy, and all will be well if we just show a little more kindness.

This, however, is an illusion.  In 2010 I was involved in the first detailed health survey of Brisbane's rough sleeping population, using a variation on a US-developed set of simple health indicators.  Of approximately 200 people surveyed, over half were at a significant risk of dying in the following 12 months if their homelessness was not addressed.  Homelessness kills, clean clothes or not.

The good news is that this problem is far from insoluble, although the solution doesn't come cheap.  The cost of providing a high quality supported housing service for a high-need homeless person was estimated in a recent study at a bit under $6,500 per year and many of them will need ongoing support for more than a year - some for the rest of their lives.  These programs, unlike clothes washing and a chat, can't be delivered by volunteers - they require highly skilled, trained professionals.  There is no quick fix here, no cheap adrenaline rush of charity.  It is a hard, unromantic slog.

On the other hand, there are immense benefits.  The same study found that providing this housing and support reduced the person's demand on the health system alone by an average of  more than $13,000 per year in hospital admissions and visits to emergency departments, not to mention any other reduced costs, like policing, park maintenance and so forth.  But these are just dollars - what they represent is the fact that people who receive such support experience massive improvements in their health and quality of life.  These services quite literally save lives.

Yet there is no evidence of any knowledge of these facts on the Orange Sky Laundry or Street Swags websites.  If the young people who run these charities are aware of  them, they are keeping it to themselves.  If the charities themselves don't engage with these issues, what hope is there for their donors?

It has long been understood in the world of charitable fund-raising that what attracts funds is often very different from what solves the problem.  The classic example of this is the use of child sponsorship programs in overseas aid.  Donors respond very generously to requests for child sponsorship.  They may not sign up for a program or simply to support a set of organisational goals, and will easily drop the commitment the moment their income goes down.  However, the tug on the heartstrings of a cute, vulnerable child can be hard to resist, and once donors are signed up they tend to stay the course because they feel they have taken personal responsibility for a specific child's wellbeing.  Indeed, many donors feel a strong personal attachment to the child they sponsor, corresponding with them, sending them gifts and even visiting them.

The problem is that child sponsorship has been shown to be a very poor method of combating poverty in developing countries.  The reason is that children are not poor in isolation.  Poor children live in poor families who themselves live in poor communities.  If you only address the poverty of an individual child without addressing the structures of poverty in which they are embedded, you are likely to have limited success in the long term.  You can even make things worse for them because they can become objects of jealousy, hostility or exploitation by dint of being singled out and having extra resources directed their way.

This presents aid agencies with a dilemma, and they basically have three options.  The option taken by many agencies such as TEAR Australia, of which I have been a long term supporter, is to forgo child sponsorship and the income it brings and do good development even if this means less money.  A second option, followed with some success by World Vision, is a kind of uneasy compromise where you continue to use child sponsorship for marketing purposes with sponsors, but in fact direct the resources raised to projects which benefit the child's whole family and community.

However, there is also a third option - to ignore the evidence and continue as if it doesn't exist.  As in homelessness a disturbing number of charities continue to raise large sums of money for programs like child sponsorship which have been demonstrated not to actually work.  Furthermore, donors keep donating to them.

The opportunity costs of this shouldn't be under-estimated.  Orange Sky Laundry's 2014-15 financial report shows they had an income in that year of $265,000.  That doesn't make them a rich organisation, but it is enough money to provide good quality supported housing to 40 high need homeless people.  40 lives saved.  You can expect their income to increase in the next year or two thanks to the extra profile generated by the young founders' growing celebrity.  Street Swags, which has been going for 10 years now, had an income of over a million dollars in 2014-15.  Over 150 lives which could have been saved.  Instead, this money will go to things which at best make only a marginal difference to people's lives.  Donors will feel good, but they could be doing so much better.

So, if you are thinking of starting a charity, take responsibility.  Don't assume that because you are a clever young person or a successful business person you can work out what to do for yourself.  Chances are there are experts in whatever field you want to contribute to who have researched the issue thoroughly and have a solid, evidence based response that is crying out for resources.  Don't scorn such expertise, it is hard-won. If someone offers you a simple solution to a complex, entrenched problem it is almost certain to be wrong. Complex problems require sophisticated solutions which are time-consuming and costly.

If you are a donor, you also have a responsibility.  Don't just accept the superficial story.  Resist the stereotyped images presented to you by charities.  Google is your friend.  If you google "how do you solve homelessness?" you can spend as much or as little time as you like reading research which will by and large confirm what I have just told you.  We no longer have an excuse for naivety.  We can and should do better.  Lives depend on it.