Opinion

Time for radical change on how we deal with homelessness

The problem for them is one of perception. Despite big words and intent things are moving backwards.

rough sleeping

It’s not a good look, is it. All those homeless rough sleepers, all of them in their sleeping bags, in their tents, under cardboards, in doorways and under bridges, in places where they haven’t been before, spiking out from the centre of cities to smaller towns. They’re everywhere. Everywhere. It’s not a good look. As the leader of Windsor council may well tell you.

We know they’re everywhere because we can see them. We count people on the way to work. And every day their number grows. Last week’s official figures will have come as a surprise to absolutely nobody. The Ministry of Housing said in England there were 4,751 people sleeping on the streets on any one night. That’s a lift of 73 per cent in three years.

Two questions arise frequently. Why is this happening and what can be done? Neither has a clear answer

This doesn’t take into account those who are not so visible, those in hostels or cramped into B&Bs, hoping for some respite on a sofa or just somewhere inside. In Scotland, there was a 10 per cent rise last year in the number of children in temporary accommodation. None of this comes as a surprise. It doesn’t stop it becoming any less bleak.

Two questions arise frequently. Why is this happening and what can be done? Neither has a clear answer. Mental health issues play a part. An overhaul in provision is essential. And obviously, cuts to vital services are having a perilous effect. At a local level, there are attempts to deal with this. The Local Government Association, which represents local authorities in England and Wales, is lobbying to have more control to do things like building new homes. That won’t solve the core issues that are much more fundamental and need earlier intervention. But at least there is a will.

Meanwhile, the Westminster government has pledged £1bn to end rough sleeping – END IT! – by 2027. But where’s the evidence of a radical new approach?

The problem for them is one of perception. Despite big words and intent things are moving backwards. It adds to a sense of a government locked in stasis, an administration so stymied by the Brexit cloud that they can’t do anything for the country, especially the poorest. It feels like a government riven by self-interest, of talk of fanciable bridges and incredible trade deals, of focus on blue passports and a sense of Empire.

Come March 2019, the poorest will still be with us. The streets will not suddenly empty and the hidden homeless will not immediately just, you know, go home. What then? Who will be thanked or judged then? 

At The Big Issue, we have been running The Platform. It’s a non-partisan, open-to-all space for radical and innovative ideas that can get to grips with homelessness and find ways out of it. This will not solve everything, but the lateral thinking and smarts of readers is something to behold. The sense that people want to use their time and experience and energy to do something positive is reassuring.

We’ll continue to run it and asks for your ideas. If the government are lacking in theirs, we can present The Platform to them. See if they want to make systemic, genuine new steps to get things done, to prevent the fall into homelessness in the first place.

To pay lip service but not grab hold of the issue, that’s not a good look.

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