In my defense, if homelessness is so widely known about - why is it on the increase? My personal thoughts are that there's little cause for any cheer whilst so many fellow human beings are forced to spend their lives out on our freezing cold streets, alone, scared, and hungry. For me, and many others, the sight of homeless people is utterly heartbreaking.
Homelessness is surely modern society's biggest disgrace. Listening to political figures wax lyrical about how they're managing 'the economy' seems utterly superfluous when we're confronted by the sight of homeless individuals living rough on our streets. It actually riles me when the discourse descends to ridiculous rhetoric about how to define gender and other pointless WOKE stuff which boils so much blood in this day and age. Surely, there are more pressing matters to focus our energies on?
Homelessness goes beyond being dehumanising. It utterly belittles the words of those who profess that we're living in a compassionate and civilised age. Our high streets are becoming degraded, dystopian images of human misery and suffering. Any hope of rejuvenating high street fortunes for future generations must, surely, necessitate the eradication of homelessness. No high street visitor wishes to witness homelessness on any scale, let alone what we've been witnessing over recent years. It's clearly catastrophic for those who are out there and demoralising for those of us who witness such abject misery befalling our fellows.
Statistics surrounding homelessness are utterly frightening. For example, the average age of death for people experiencing homelessness is just 46 (for men) and 42 (for women). People sleeping out on our streets are almost 17 times more likely to have been victims of violence. More than one in three rough sleepers have been deliberately hit, kicked or experienced some other form of violence whilst being homeless. People who are homeless are ten times more likely to take their own lives than the general population.
We're told that homelessness is an excessively complex scenario. I can largely accept that. In many instances, it probably is very complicated indeed. We know that people become homeless for many different reasons. There are social causes such as a lack of affordable housing, poverty and unemployment. Life events often push people into homelessness such as leaving prison, leaving care or even leaving the armed forces (in situations where individuals have no home to return to). Many women experiencing homelessness have escaped violent and abusive relationships. Other people simply can no longer afford to pay their rents.
Life events such as relationship breakdowns, mental or physical health problems, losing jobs or substance misuse put people under massive pressure. Being homeless compounds these core problems and often makes them even more difficult to resolve. However, in nearly all cases homelessness is preventable and in every case, the horrors of having nowhere to live can be brought to an end.
There are no national figures to tell us just how many people are homeless across the UK. Perhaps publishing such statistics would unnerve political organisations? The narrative coldly states that homeless numbers are recorded 'differently' in each of the home nations and that many homeless people are living off-grid so wouldn't show up in any official figures.
However, the 'Crisis' organisation does carry out an annual assessment of the number of homeless people. This study is done as a direct response to public concerns that far too many people are experiencing homelessness and not being accurately accounted for in any official statistics. The figures compiled by Crisis are referred to as 'core homelessness'. These figures account for rough sleeping, people living in sheds, garages and other unconventional buildings. It also includes so-called 'sofa surfing,' living in hostels and other unsuitable temporary accommodation such as B&B's.
Stark and bewildering
The figures compiled by Crisis are both stark and bewildering. On any given night, tens of thousands of families and individuals experience the very worst forms of homelessness across the UK. This includes over 200,000 households in England alone. For more than five consecutive years the figures for 'core homelessness' have been rising significantly every year in England before they reached a peak just before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Clearly, living rough (rough sleeping) is the most visible and precarious form of homelessness. The longer people experience rough sleeping, the more likely they are to face challenges such as trauma, mental health issues and even become prone to drug misuse. Local authorities do have a statutory duty to secure a home for some groups of people. This is often referred to as the 'main homelessness duty.' Every year, tens of thousands of people apply to their local authority for homelessness assistance.
Alarmingly, this is where bureaucracy trumps sensibility and compassion because people must be legally defined as "homeless" before qualifying for any assistance. The most beleaguered people in our society must demonstrate that they lack a secure place at which they are entitled to live (or not reasonably be able to stay).
But it isn't that simple. In order to qualify for any assistance under the 'main homelessness duty', there are even more strict criteria that have to be met. Local authorities may initially provide temporary accommodation for those who meet these criteria, mainly families with children. Those who fall outside the net are not entitled to help with housing. These people don't bother to approach their councils for any help because they believe that none will be forthcoming. Consequently, these people won't be accounted for in any official statistics which is why Crisis carries out its annual study regarding 'core homelessness.'
It's clear that there are lots of people who are at risk of being pushed into homelessness. They're often in low paid jobs and may already be living in poverty within poor quality or insecure housing. Many stay in hostels, squats, B&Bs, in overcrowded accommodation or in ‘concealed' housing such as the floors or sofas of friends and family.
We hear so many stories of people living in crisis, of the escalating costs of living and all the hardships that such matters doubtlessly entail. All the while, there's a silent tragedy unfolding in front of our noses on our local high streets, where countless people wander around in freezing conditions every single day. I find it very difficult not to worry about them as I lay my selfish head down in a warm bed each night.
I just see a fundamental anomaly when I see how Governments are prepared to spend billions sending military aid to the very war zones which have singularly compounded many of the hardships people face domestically. We live in a society that clearly sees fit to vociferously campaign for the welfare of refugees who arrive on our shores as a direct consequence of conflicts in which we (as a country) are becoming increasingly complicit. All this, whilst tens of thousands of our own are left to fend for themselves. There are no limitless billions available to help sort our own people out? Surely, there's something askew here?
Douglas Hughes is a UK-based writer producing general interest articles ranging from travel pieces to classic motoring.
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