This Hat Blogs: Hearing out the Homeless
Author: Inès Lefebvre Du Prey
A small cup for loose change, a thin sleeping bag, a man hunched in a doorway for shelter - walking the streets of UK cities these sights meet us at the turn of every road. Seeing people sleeping rough is something most of us are well accustomed to. Something which has been normalised. The key question we are asking is : should this be the case?
It should be clear - the problem of homelessness, of slipping through the net, is one that could affect us all and is the result of bad luck not bad choices. One occurrence - a break up, a family argument, being fired from work - can trigger a spiral of events that leaves a person on the streets. For a real-life example of this, follow the link at the end of this article to read Sam’s story, a man working at a bank from a stable family who nevertheless found himself homeless. With the right charitable support he was able to turn his life around, yet not everyone is fortunate enough to receive this help. A change of attitude towards the problem of homelessness is required, so that we include these people in our circle of care and find them a place in the society that is as much theirs as ours.
As well as rough sleepers, homeless people include ‘hidden homeless’ households (people not visible on official statistics), statutorily homeless people (who seek assistance from local authorities on grounds of being imminently homeless) and single homeless people living in temporary accommodation. Shelter estimated that 280,000 people were homeless in England as of December 2019. London’s homelessness crisis has hit a record high as the number of families living in temporary accommodation is at the highest level for 15 years. This problem is worsened due to rising unemployment and financial instability, not forgetting the looming lift on the eviction ban. Most shockingly of all, the number of people dying while homeless in England and Wales has risen for a fifth year in a row.
During the first lockdown in March the government introduced strict guidelines that required local authorities to provide emergency accommodation to anybody at risk of being left out on the street. In the present lockdown, as temperatures plummet and the new strain of coronavirus sweeps the country, the government has failed to reintroduce these measures. Health experts say that homeless people are at a heightened risk of Covid-19 because of a weaker immune system due to a poor diet and lack of proper sleep. The current pandemic and cold weather mean that homeless people have to choose between being at risk in a shelter or freezing on the street, the choice between two potentially life-threatening situations. Many charities have argued that during this current wave of the virus government funding has been insufficient.
Homelessness is a crisis which can be resolved with the right attitude and political will. The positive societal implications of solving this problem are many - reduced dependency on the NHS, improved wellbeing and avoidance of costs for local authorities. It is important, now more than ever, that we act with compassion and humanity towards the homeless.