Sputnik: Today a prominent politician in Britain has estimated that homelessness is expected to rocket to almost 10,000 within five years. How significant are these figures and what is your reaction to these estimates?
Diana Parkinson: Going into London I see so many homeless people - we know that it's a problem in this country. I think in 2018, there were an estimated 726 homeless people that died in England and Wales, but you know there is a huge number of people who are homeless. We don't have the council housing that we used to have. There are not enough council houses being built; apparently only one new home is being built to replace every five council houses that are sold and that was in 2017, those figures, so I'm sure it hasn't improved since. It's a huge problem. We shouldn't have people sleeping rough. I work in London one day a week and just on my short walk between the tube and my consulting room you can see either people who are bedded down or where they've been bedded down at night and it's shocking. It's just shocking.
Sputnik: What difficulties need to be overcome when it comes to tackling such a serious problem as homelessness? What makes this problem so difficult to tackle?
Diana Parkinson: I think it's a breakdown in the way that our society is. A lot of it is the way that we live nowadays, whereas if we go back 100 or more years, everybody worked locally. If you look at the way farms are run nowadays, it's usually one farmer and a lot of machinery, whereas it used to be that everyone would be in a village - they would be involved in local farms and everyone would have a job and everyone would have something to do. I know times were hard then as well, but people were kind of absorbed into communities, even if people had some mental health problems they could be absorbed and there would be some sort of work found for them. I think now we just don't have that. We don't have places for people with mental health issues. Many of our servicemen and ex-servicemen have mental health issues and take to the streets because of their mental health issues that are not being helped. We're still in the dark ages really when it comes to mental health. We don't have safe places for people; we don't have enough places to refer people just to get basic help for mental health or physical health. These are sad times we live in where there's such a big divide now between the super-rich and the rest of us and the people who just through no fault of their own often find themselves marginalized. They lose their job, so they can't afford their rent so then they become homeless. I mean it doesn't take long to become homeless.
Sputnik: What can we do as individuals to help people affected by homelessness – particularly at Christmas and during the winter?
Diana Parkinson: There are lots of charities actually, if people just go online as most people can nowadays you can find something local to get involved in and to help. It is interesting that we pay so much attention to sadness in life at Christmas time but we need to remember that people are homeless not just at Christmas - it's the whole of the year round. Yes, it's easier to be homeless if the weather's warm, but it doesn't stop it raining, and it's harder obviously in the wintertime but it's there every day of the year. There is something that the Big Issue say; if anyone sees a rough sleeper, to send details of where and when you see them as well as a brief description of that person to www.streetlink.org.uk. That’s a website people could look up if they are concerned about someone and feel the need that that person should get some help. But Scotland, where I know you're speaking from, doesn't have a centralized service, so you need to check with your local council for contact details if you're concerned about somebody, but remember that no happy healthy person chooses to live on the streets. We need safe places for everyone to live.