After a year of living on the street I finally stumbled across a means by which I was able to find quality accommodation, albeit temporary, in London for myself and my fiancée, and at a relatively affordable price.
Accommodation in London of almost any type is at a premium and can be extremely expensive, particularly for those, such as myself, not fully meeting the ‘Statutory Homeless’ criteria and not in receipt of state aid.
Fortunately, as a Big Issue vendor, I did have an income, albeit not sufficiently high to make typical London rental or B&B prices affordable without subsidy.
There are currently around 1,450 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.
The solution I came across, having researched all the usual channels without success, was Airbnb, the online portal through which thousands of UK homeowners (and millions worldwide) privately let spare rooms in their homes – sometimes even entire properties – typically to overseas tourists.
On this website I was surprised not only by the sheer quantity and apparent quality of the vacant rooms and properties available often for immediate occupancy, even in London, but also by the fact that many homeowners were willing to offer substantial discounts to those wanting to book a stay of a month or more. The rent also includes ALL bills (electric/gas/water/internet, even linen and cleaning).
When it comes to payment it gets even better. Firstly, no deposit is required – which is otherwise a major stumbling block to renting. Then there are a variety of payment options including PayPal, debit and credit cards. And while these payment options are not always accessible to homeless people, they are available to many support organisations and private sponsors.
It has been an altogether positive experience, one which probably saved my life during the recent sub-zero temperatures.
As far as the question of meeting certain criteria for people to qualify for housing benefits, there would need to be discussions with the Department of Social Security to make the proposal viable and to arrive at an appropriate working method. It would certainly need a change to current practice, but I can’t really see a problem now as homelessness has recently become a hot potato in politics.
To obtain a similar place through traditional means could require years on a waiting list for someone going through the usual channels. You just need to see what is now still happening to the Grenfell Tower residents to see how much this is costing the DSS (and by extension all UK taxpayers) both financially and in terms of resources.
This is because they are using an already overloaded “professional” (ie expensive, high profit-making and exploitative) rental sector. But such a private solution as I suggest not only cuts out all the waiting lists and jumping through hoops (eg the need for a homeless person to first go through the demeaning and demoralising process of having to live in a hostel for “observation” before being deemed suitable for accommodation), but provides an almost instant solution.
As I write, I am now into my second month of private rental accommodation through Airbnb. It has been an altogether positive experience, one which probably saved my life during the recent sub-zero temperatures.
I have already discussed my experiences with experts in the homeless charities sector, who have entire departments given over to housing the homeless, including themselves owning hostels and flats. Their first reaction is usually amazement. But, having picked themselves up off the floor, the general feeling is that this will actually work with minimal adjustments to the current benefits system.
It is obviously not a permanent solution to homelessness, but it would certainly get people off the streets almost literally overnight.
Tony Wood sells The Big Issue at Victoria in London @outcastfdn outcastfdn.org