We speak a lot about what we can do to reduce homelessness, to make sure people have homes of their own and aren’t being forced to live on the street. Obviously it’s such a complicated issue, that there are hundreds of answers, and not one of them is totally right. We may never ‘fix’ homelessness. But this campaign would be pointless if we didn’t at least try. There are several things we can do to at least better the situation; I always tell people, at the very least, look someone in the eye when you pass them on the street. You don’t need to give them change, offer them your bed or change the world, but if you give someone a nod or a smile as you walk past, you’ve done something. If you have more time, you can buy someone a coffee or help out with your local shelter or charity.
But at the end of the day, these are all things that are just making a shit situation slightly better. What we need to do is to make sure that the shit situation doesn’t exist in the first place. All these things won’t reduce homelessness in the long term, and that’s what we need to look to. We need serious legislative, political change, and now – in the UK at least – we have the opportunity to create that change. The General Election, even if you think it’s a foregone conclusion (and it’s not, not until the final vote is cast), actually gives us, citizens, the electorate, normal fucking people, the opportunity to put into power a party that
A) genuinely cares about reducing homeless and;
B) knows what to do, and will follow up on their promises.
Now, I’m not going to tell you exactly who to vote for. Instead, I’m going to tell you what measures are needed, based on research and interviews we’ve done with people at both ends of the scale – professionals and members of the homeless community themselves – and then I’m going to tell what each party offers. Then, make your own decision.
What needs to be done now?
- More housing!
- A key issue that all the main parties recognise is that there is a desperate and urgent need to build houses. Not only do more houses need to be built, however, but the government needs to promise to keep those houses affordable, and stick to that promise. This means rather than eventually raising the prices of the housing built, the property needs to stay affordable for low earners, either through state ownership or a cap on price hikes.
- As well as housing in general, there is also a need for state-owned social housing, to provide stable, long-term accommodation for those with low to no income.
- More houses need to be built year-on-year in order to maintain stability for future generations getting into the housing market, otherwise we’re likely to end up with even higher levels of homelessness and in turn, more crime, higher unemployment, a worse economy and basically an even shitter country.
- Funding for local councils, specifically allocated to homelessness.
- Local councils need to be given the resources (basically, money), specifically allocated to help those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. As reasons for homelessness and statistics surrounding it vary from city to city, local councils need to be given the freedom and the funding to deal with the issue as best suits their local area.
- Councils ought to be given guidelines on how to reduce homelessness in their area. Part of the support given to councils should be linking them up with professional homelessness services in their area, who have the skills and experience to reduce homelessness if given the resources
- Funding devolved to local councils should include money earmarked for emergency shelters, move-on accommodation, increased mental health provision and employment support services.
- More shelters.
- Not only are there not enough emergency shelters, the ones that exist are often filled to capacity. While there are also hostels and YMCAs available, these usually charge from around £15 a bed, so aren’t available to everyone.
- The amount of shelters in existence has decreased in recent years, or have had to reduce in size due to lack of resources, lack of volunteers and lack of funding. They need support and funding in order to carry on the fantastic work they already do, and this should be coming from the government and councils.
- There’s a need for shelters for specific needs; we have a rapidly increasing amount of women and young people becoming homeless, and these are groups that are likely to feel intimidated in mixed shelters; the thought that if you’re already on the street, and yet are still too scared to go to a shelter, shouldn’t be an issue and needs to be addressed by creating more shelters tailored to certain groups.
- Shelters are only a means unto themselves; there is an urgent need for move-on accommodation, so that people, once they’re no longer in crisis, can be given the long-term stability (which is not found in an emergency shelter or hostel), to move on, find a job, and start to feel secure again.
- Rent caps.
- One of the biggest causes of homelessness is people getting forced out of their homes by ridiculous, unchecked rent increases from private landlords. One of the solutions to this is to put a cap on rents, to ensure enough of the houses that are out there are at an affordable price for low to middle income earners.
- We also need caps on rent once people start renting so we don’t have families moving into a house before getting pushed out again soon after because the rent on their own home has suddenly been pushed up to a level they can’t afford.
- As well as rent caps, people need to be given secure, longer contracts, so that they have the time to settle in a house and start to build a home. It’s no use having a contract for a year when you know that at the end of the year you’re likely to have to pack up and move again as the house is given to someone who can afford a higher rent. Having a contract of 3-5 years gives someone the security they need to settle down and makes it easier to sustain jobs and families.
What needs to be done in future?
- Benefit reforms.
- In recent years, there have been catastrophic changes to the benefits system. Reforms such as Universal Credit have fucked up the system for so many people and when you’re in an insecure situation, potentially without easy access to a computer, or with serious mental health issues, the system can be so difficult to get around that people end up giving up on even trying to access essential benefits.
- Another recent reform to benefits that is sure to lead to increased homelessness is the abolition of housing benefits to under 21s. Thanks to cuts in education and less support for young people-focused homeless services, 16-25s are the fastest growing homeless population, and the abolition of housing benefit to people of this age has been condemned by all major UK homeless charities as almost certain to lead to an even higher increase of homeless young people.
- These reforms need to be reversed. Young people from the age of 16 need access to housing benefit and the entire system needs to be overhauled and developed into one that doesn’t punish people or impose sanctions, but serves to provide easy access to benefits for those that need it most.
- Ensure people without employable skills or experience, have easy, immediate access to programmes where they can gain these skills and experience. This includes ex-convicts, immigrants and people from less-educated backgrounds.
- Awareness of causes of homelessness.
- Services for mental health, domestic abuse and addiction need to become a new priority in looking at how to prevent homelessness in future. While these are just some of the key causes of homelessness (and there are so many), they are an example of causes that are often overlooked in the discussion around homelessness. As a result, they don’t receive the funding or attention they need.
- More attention needs to be given to the root causes of homelessness, not just the symptoms. The government needs to more actively fund, promote and support services for mental health, domestic abuse and addiction.
- Better education.
- The importance of education should never be underestimated. Good free schools provide better education and more opportunities, which means reducing future homelessness. As previously mentioned, more and more 16-25s are becoming homeless, by leaving education, whether that’s school, college or uni, and being totally unprepared for the world. Couple this with the lack of opportunities now given to young people (e.g. cuts to housing benefit), and future generations are now more at risk of homelessness than ever before.
- State education must be properly funded, all kids given the opportunity to good education and all schools – especially those in more deprived areas – must have the resources they need (equipment, staff, space and food). This support will come in part from local councils but crucially, it needs to come from government in ensuring that every school has enough funding to spend on the resources they need.
- We also need to look at what is taught in schools. This is only now starting to be recognised, but students ought to be given a basic level of knowledge about homelessness, so that they can recognise the warning signs and be able to tell if they, or one of their friends or family, is at risk of becoming homeless. This would include teaching on relationships, mental health, addiction, and being given a basic knowledge of the support services that are available. If young people are taught about the warning signs of homelessness at an early age, they are far less likely to fall into the trap themselves.
- More funding for health services.
- This may seem like an obvious one, but unfortunately, it is too often taken for granted. Health services need to be able to work effectively, to have the funding and resources they need, and to be able to actually help people.
- Specifically with regards to homelessness, more funding needs to be allocated to addiction rehabilitation and mental health services. As issues that can lead directly to homelessness, tackling them efficiently at an early stage, by having a well-funded public health service, is crucial.
Now, take a close look at each party’s manifesto (links to each are below), and see who’s really working to end homelessness, and who actually knows what to do. And then, after the election, make sure that the government (whoever that is) is actually carrying out these measures, and pushing to end homelessness as it is now, and preventing it for future generations. Make sure to lobby the government, to write to your local MP, to the Prime Minister, to your local council. Campaign for more housing, for rent control and for benefit reforms. Push the government to do what they need to do.
Labour Manifesto: http://www.labour.org.uk/manifesto2017
Conservative Manifesto: https://www.conservatives.com/manifesto
Lib Dem Manifesto: http://www.libdems.org.uk/manifesto
Green Party Manifesto: https://www.greenparty.org.uk/green-guarantee/
UKIP Manifesto: http://www.ukip.org/manifesto2017
Vote for the policies, not the person. We have an opportunity to reduce homelessness, and now. Don’t waste it.