The Homeless

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” So wrote William Shakespeare (in As You Like It since you ask). On this basis it is, perhaps, less than reassuring to learn that the cup of wisdom must have been overflowing in the Polish Ministry of Labour when the idea to set up a website for the homeless was mooted. For, in what may only be described as shocking news, the homeless are simply not using it.

Apparently, the new state web site which is directed at the homeless and other groups in need of social assistance is struggling to reach its target audience. The site may be used to file applications for social aid, which helpfully stresses that besides the homeless, aid is particularly addressed to “individuals and families with no income or very low income, people with disabilities, victims of violence in the family, and the socially excluded.” But, and only a really wise man would be really surprised, according to a statement by the ministry only “several dozen” applications have been made via the internet over the last month.

The rather obvious point that the homeless and Poland’s poorest citizens lack ready access to the internet has rightly been picked up by critics. Your Movement MP Wincent Elsner, deputy head of the parliamentary committee on innovation, in an interview with the daily newspaper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna daily suggested this project as a glaring example of a project that was only created to take advantage of EU funds. The sum of 49 million zloty (approximately 11.6 million euro) was spent on setting up the web site (empatia.mpips.gov.pl) and it seems that running the service will cost another two million zloty (477,484 euro) each year.

Whenever I think of the homeless – and there is really no excuse for tolerating involuntary homelessness in a civilized European country – I tend to think there but for the grace of God go I. Clearly I have been deluding myself and should have been congratulating these folk whom, free from the constraints of property occupation, are able to contemplate endless days surfing the internet choosing from the wife variety of assistance on offer. And for those on low incomes, struggling with their daily bread? No so much: let them eat cake, but rather let them sally forth to the nearest internet café to feast on the cyber offerings.

This is but another example of government failure to act with common sense. The thought process, and that is putting it kindly, was no doubt: internet good; EU funds better; a project combining the two best. The objective simply must have been to spend the money as creatively as possible, irrespective of the results because surely no thinking person could actually believe that such a scheme was the best way to help those on need. The taxpayers who have to fund this nonsense and, even more important, those who are genuinely in need of help do deserve better of government.

Of course, the Polish government is not unique in blunders of this kind and, in many ways, is to be congratulated for its innovative use of on-line possibilities in engaging with its citizens. Which only serves to make this example of disconnection all the more unusual. Be that as it may, I will take inspiration where I find it, for as Shakespeare wrote: “I had rather have a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad” (As You Like It). I do like it, writing these words, but it’s of little consolation to the homeless. Better luck next time.

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