World
29.5.17

Is Homelessness Misunderstood?

The author is Salvio Bhering. From Pexels.com

Homelessness is a very complex issue very often mistakenly simplified. I used to believe that the homeless people I see on the streets in London every day could simply walk down to the nearest town hall and thereafter get a place to stay somewhere in the United Kingdom.

Who is to blame for being homeless if not the homeless? Is it simply easier to place responsibility on the individual? What about the system and particularly the politicians?

There are a number of reasons for homelessness, both social and personal. The individual might lack social support or educational qualifications, or they possibly even have poor physical or mental health. They might have made some bad investments, have a mortgage or other debts which would make it impossible for them to continue their lifestyle if any surprising event occurred. Our neighbours (or ourselves) might carry some family issues dating back as far as childhood (for example, sexual or physical abuse, and drug or alcohol addictions) which might make it impossible for them to live a normal life. These issues need special attention and often professional help. This need is rarely looked after in this country, thus many simply attempt to forget, but when core pillars in a person’s life disappear – such as close relatives/friends dying or leaving/losing one’s job, etc. – all other pillars become shaky.

It is very easy to sit on a pedestal and walk indifferently past a homeless person begging for spare change. It is easier to assume that someone else is looking after this individual and in many situations it is right to insist that homeless people should not be supported by passersby. But before we all convince ourselves that our society is flawless, it is important to understand how homelessness is resolved by the government.

Local authorities have duties to homeless people as described in the Housing Act of 1996 and amended by the Homelessness Act 2002. To qualify to be declared statutory homeless, a person must satisfy five different criteria. Interim accommodation can be given if an applicant qualifies for the first three tests. Yes – this does already sound more like a job interview than a person in need.

The five tests are:

Is the applicant homeless or threatened with homelessness?

Is the applicant eligible for assistance?

Is the applicant in priority need?

Is the applicant intentionally homeless?

Does the applicant have a local connection?

In 2003-2004, the annual number of homeless households peaked at a staggering 135,000; however, this number had fallen to 40,000 in 2009-2010. Upsettingly, the housing charity Shelter recently estimated homelessness in England to amount to more than 250,000 people. Homelessness is obviously not a tiny problem we can overlook: it is now affecting a quarter of a million people living in England. That is shocking.

Shelter based its estimate on the reported number of rough sleepers, the number of people housed in hostels, the number of people waiting to be housed by council social services departments and statistics regarding those in temporary accommodation,

What is being done to solve this growing problem? Not enough is the simple answer. Since 2010, 133 homelessness projects have closed, and there are 4,000 fewer bed spaces. The government has recognised that preventing homelessness is cost-effective, but 40 percent of local authorities reported they do not have adequate tools to prevent homelessness in their area. Although the government plans to cut the cost of the welfare bill to make savings of £12bn a year, it also has some promising goals. The Conservative Party pledges to build 275,000 affordable homes by 2020, but “affordable” is an ambiguous term. The affordable homes’ rent is set at up to 80 percent of the market rate, which most likely will be too high for the poorest part of society to afford. Again, this is a complex issue that is not only to be blamed on the current government. The cost of owning a house has increased by 70 percent over the last decade, and the cost of renting privately has risen 37 percent in the past five years. Disturbingly, private rents are forecast to rise by 90 percent by 2040, more than twice as fast as income. If these predictions turn out to be correct, 275,000 “affordable” homes will far from solve the problem, but arguably, it must be difficult for politicians to create solutions for an ever-expanding problem.

Let us not forget the magnificent work done by charities to fight homelessness. Charities such as Shelter and Crisis provide a huge amount of voluntary help to people in need. Without these charities, many more would be without a home.

There is no final conclusion to this issue, as it is a political question of priority – what to do with taxpayers’ money – but hopefully homelessness will not in the future be misunderstood as an option or a position where a person can seek help quickly and efficiently.

I used to believe that the homeless people I see on the street every day in London could simply walk to the nearest town hall and thereafter get a place to stay somewhere in the UK.

I do not believe that anymore.

Global Seven News

Ricki Lyngsoe