It is truly “unacceptable that in 21st-century Britain there are people sleeping on the streets”. I’m sure that those reading this would agree with the words of Chancellor Philip Hammond. Yet words are often cheap. The cost comes in solving the problems...and homelessness is arguably one of the largest social problems that Britain currently faces.
Numbers are not limited in the same way as words and often tell us exactly what we need to know. We fall into a trap of believing that words alone have emotive power. The following numbers have equally as much emotive power as words.
4,134 people slept rough across England on any given night in 2016. 59,090 households in England were accepted as homeless in that same year. Bringing homelessness ‘closer to home’, York Council revealed that, in the period 2015-2016, 163 presentations of homelessness and at least 18 rough sleepers. Having walked the streets of York alongside Christian homelessness charity, Street Project, I know that 18 is a very optimistic number – the real number is probably much higher.
The number game becomes more disturbing, with Crisis stating that homeless people, on average, die at 47 years old and are 9 times more likely to take their own lives than the general population. 86% of homeless people reported some form of mental health issue, while 27% and 41% respectively said they were recovering either from an alcohol problem or a drug problem.
There are many more statistics that could be given, but that requires an entire article in itself. What is important is not that statutory homelessness is now lower than it was in the past. What is important is that it is still such a significant social problem, with vast numbers of sufferers. Homelessness is not only about rough sleepers – it is about those in unstable, temporary accommodation, or sofa-surfing. To address one part of the problem is not enough – a long-term, umbrella solution is needed.
The Homelessness Reduction Bill, set to come into force in April 2018, sets out 5 main modifications to existing homelessness protection:
Improved advice and information about homelessness and the prevention of homelessness.
Extension of the period ‘threatened with homelessness’ from 28 to 56 days. Currently, an applicant is only assessed if they could become homeless in the next 28 days. The extension will mean applicants can be assessed if they could become homeless in the next 56 days.
Introducing new duties to prevent and relieve homelessness for all eligible people, regardless of priority need and intentionality.
Introducing assessments and personalised housing plans, setting out the actions housing authorities and individuals will take to secure accommodation.
Encouraging public bodies to work together to prevent and relieve homelessness through a duty to refer.
It is encouraging to see that the government are taking policy steps to combat homelessness. For those of you who read this and are sceptical, however, I would understand that point of view. Something stronger could be attempted...and that something is ‘housing first’.
Housing First is a scheme which places the emphasis on giving homeless people permanent housing first and foremost, without placing conditions on those going into the housing. Services are available and offered (e.g. drug addiction support) if the person so chooses. The aim, however, is that the stable housing situation will be the starting-point of stabilising other issues that individuals may have. Finland have tried this approach and all but ended rough sleeping, as well as sustainably housing many long-term homeless individuals.
The UK may well be on the way to taking this same approach. The West Midlands, Manchester and Liverpool are all set to pilot the Housing First approach, and a study by Crisis in Liverpool have found that the scheme could potentially save £4m compared with current homelessness services in that area. It remains to be seen whether the Housing First approach will work as effectively for the UK as it has for Finland, but every avenue must be tried in the fight against this social injustice.
Grace is a third year undergraduate studying Politics