Walking through any city, it is clear to see that homelessness is a large-scale issue, but Katie highlights that this nationwide crisis goes far beyond what we can see, calling for more support for some of the most vulnerable in our society.
Homelessness: Every day of the year, not just at Christmas.
As winter is drawing to a close you may find that your charitable pockets are closing up and you are missing a New Years’ resolution to give more, whether that be giving time, money or food to people in greater need than yourself. Over Christmas thousands of Brits give money to many different charities tackling issues from cancer research to domestic violence and the refugee crisis, and one of the most popular causes to give to is the plight of homeless people in the UK. However, homelessness is not just a crisis over Christmas and with an estimated 307,000 people sleeping rough or accommodated in temporary housing such as hostels and further thousands suffering with ‘hidden homelessness’ there is lots more to be done. Hidden homelessness is a term used when a person has nowhere to live but is not recorded as requiring housing assistance. This means that all statistics used in this article and any articles or discussions on homelessness are significant underestimates.
People living homeless are often struggling with other issues as well as their homelessness and a survey conducted by Homeless Link found that 73% of their respondents reported having physical health problems, 39% have or are recovering from a drug problem and 27% have or are recovering from an alcohol dependency. Shockingly, 80% reported suffering with some form of mental health problem. These physical and mental barriers make it very difficult for homeless people to break out of the cycle and mean that they need multifaceted support to help them reintegrate back into society, rather than simply a roof over their head. Charities such as Shelter and Crisis tackle addiction and mental and physical health problems as a part of their work, with some clients offered access to counselling and practical support. The UK’s leading mental health charity Mind also recognises the link between mental health and homelessness and they focus on how improved mental health services could help many people to overcome their homelessness or housing difficulties.
Although rough sleeping is often the face of homelessness, in Britain it actually accounts for a small proportion of the homelessness figures in the UK. Living in temporary accommodation is the most common predicament of those recorded as homeless with 281,000 people living in hostels, bed and breakfasts and other temporary accommodation last year. Of those people approximately 128,000 are children. Many of these children are homeless alongside their families, potentially consisting of older siblings, parents and even grandparents, but other children are homeless on their own. Often these children have ‘made themselves homeless’ as they have faced physical, emotional or sexual abuse at home and are no longer safe to remain living with their families. In such cases local authorities often refuse to rehouse the homeless young person, as they theoretically have a place they can live. However, given the circumstances at home, that could not be further from the truth. It is essential that social services have enough resources to enable them to support these children and more emergency and long-term foster placements are needed across the UK to provide loving homes for children of all ages for whom homelessness has become a terrible consequence of a challenging family life.
Combatting homelessness in this country is undoubtedly complex as the struggles facing those recorded homeless vary significantly. In Manchester the problems are no different and Mayor Andy Burnham sees tackling homelessness as the most urgent thing on his agenda – no surprise given that in the past year homelessness in Manchester has severely spiked with 1 in 154 people in Manchester currently homeless in comparison with 1 in 266 in 2016. Burnham aims to end rough sleeping in the city by 2020 and has some specific plans for how to do this, including pressuring the NHS to ensure GPs provide treatment to homeless people when they need it, and opening up vacant properties owned by housing providers or the public sector. Carrying out these policies would go part way to solving the homelessness problem, but more financial and resource support is needed from the government in Westminster to tackle homelessness nationwide. In addition, incredible charities such as Shelter, Crisis and Centrepoint are always in need of increased generosity from both private and public donors. Charitable giving, whatever the cause, should not be confined to the festive season as all-year-round hundreds of thousands of Brits are in need of urgent support.
By Katie Wharton