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Homelessness is a crisis!

JANUARY 21, 2020

This week, newspapers reported a homeless man's dead body being found outside a restaurant in central Birmingham in freezing temperatures after passers-by thought he was asleep. The 38-year-old homeless man was called Paul Williams and this was not the first time, or the last time a homeless person dies on our streets.

Homelessness has exploded, both in terms of those sleeping rough, with the number of rough sleepers recorded in England more than doubling since 2010 but also for families and households who traditionally would be able to buy homes, put away savings and have a good standard of living.

The latest quarterly homelessness statistics showed another year-on-year rise in the number of households classed as homeless. There are 79,150 homeless households in temporary housing, including 6,400 in bed and breakfast accommodation.

Last month, the government set out details of its Homelessness Reduction Act describing it as the “most ambitious legislation in decades”, accompanied by a commitment to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it altogether by 2027.

But this announcement has received much criticism and has been seen as an attempt to make the right noises in the face of public anger without accepting the multiple causes of homelessness and without a meaningful strategy to provide genuinely affordable housing to rent and to buy.

Even the local government ombudsman has warned that homelessness is now a serious risk for working families with stable jobs who cannot find somewhere affordable to live after being evicted by private-sector landlords seeking higher rents.

Homelessness can happen to almost anyone, because work doesn’t pay and renting doesn’t provide security. Households become homeless and stuck in temporary accommodation because council finances and a lack of social housing make it impossible to house everyone. Benefit cuts and the built in wait for universal benefit has made the already precarious no longer able to manage. 

Channel 4’s new series, Out In The Cold, explores what life is like for those without a home.

Unite said its housing members are struggling to help increasing numbers of homeless individuals and families – which includes those living in hostels, temporary accommodation and on the streets – because of the government’s policies.

Unite believes that fixing the problem of homelessness will first need an honest recognition of the causal factors. That means properly addressing the shortage of realistic housing options for those at risk of homelessness or already in temporary accommodation and getting a grip on the market’s failure to provide genuinely affordable homes. 

Unite national officer Siobhan Endean is clear about what those market reforms should be.

She said that "An increase in the number of housing association homes specifically available to rough sleepers as well as a rise in the number of outreach workers to find and support homeless people, coupled with rent controls, secure tenancies, investment in council housing and a social safety net that is fit for purpose."

Housing shortages and successive government cuts have created this crisis and Unite members – from those working in housing associations and charities to rough sleeper outreach workers – are finding it more and more difficult to help the people who need it most.

Endean said "This situation cannot go on any longer. More and more people are finding themselves homeless as work becomes ever more insecure, rents and living costs rocket and housing shortages intensify."

Clearly there needs to be a joined up strategy in place but also a recognition that people must not be made homeless as a result of welfare reforms and universal credit. Workers need better pay and conditions and should get paid a fair wage and should not be put on zero hours contracts. Tenancy rights must be strengthened to prevent evictions in pursuit of profit, robust rent controls put in place, more investment in council housing and social housing and an increase in the number of housing association homes specifically available to rough sleepers.

Further information at UniteLive

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