Thinking about the homeless this winter

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If somebody told me that they do not give money to homeless people as it will just be “spent on drugs” I always used to, somewhat childishly, respond with “If I had to sleep on the street I’d rather be high than stone-cold sober.” Obviously, homelessness deserves more complex and serious analysis than the former opinion gives it. One of the hardest things about it is simply knowing how many people are homeless. With some purely anecdotal evidence I have seen more homeless people about Lancaster since returning after summer (but this is statistically meaningless for those who don’t suffer from “liberal guilt”). Statistics are updated regularly but there are a variety of different ways someone can be homeless, and due to the nature of a nomadic, homeless life they can be very difficult to find when it comes to statistical surveys.

Research by the charity Crisis indicates that about 62% of single homeless people are hidden and may not show up in official figures. The “hidden homeless” can include people who have found a temporary solution meaning they are staying at friends, family members’ homes, or are squatting. This is the hardest type of homelessness to measure accurately. For more severe cases there are various official figures of those sleeping rough which are released and updated regularly.

In February 2014 the Department for Communities and Local Government released the 2013 figures for rough sleepers. All regions of England’s amounts of rough sleepers have gone up since 2010 – when the current coalition came to power – with the one exception of North East England. An odd case which rose greatly in 2012 but then dropped by 60% in 2013. The most extreme rises in rough sleepers from 2010 to 2013 are the South East of England which increased by 72% and the East Midlands which increased by 70%. Both of which are frightening statistics.

Someone can be considered as statutory homeless (according to the 2014 Housing Statistical Release) “if they do not have accommodation that they have a legal right to occupy”. The main causes for this type of homelessness were the end of an assured short-hold tenancy or parents/friends no longer being able or willing to accommodate.

However, for those people who do believe themselves to be homeless, getting help isn’t always as easy if they are not considered a priority. Over 26,940 people applied to councils for help with homelessness in the period of April to June 2014, but only 13,470 of those applications were accepted. According to the official Government figures that’s 49% of those who applied were accepted and of those were rejected: 26% were found to not be homeless, 18% were homeless but not in priority need, and 8% were found to be intentionally homeless and in priority need. Priority is given to the more vulnerable, for example houses with children, elderly or disabled occupants.

Many of those who were given assistance were placed into temporary accommodation. However, in spite of these efforts an article published on this year on the 3rd November by Shelter says that 90,000 children in Britain will face homelessness this Christmas. That is another very frightening statistic.

There are so many different types and causes of homelessness that the scale of the problem is terrifying. It goes deeper than those who are actually sleeping on the streets. There are issues with home ownership and the housing crisis making properties unaffordable for those in need. Renting is an unpredictable market and many vulnerable people live in fear of prices rising or worse, eviction. This is not to mention the low quality of temporary and privately rented housing – with one third of private rented homes in England failing to meet the Decent Homes Standard.

Even considering the scale of the issue, those on the street have it hardest, particularly in these winter months, and are in need of any help that they can get. Some of the charities that help combat homelessness, and provided some of the statistics I have mentioned in this article, are Homeless Link, Shelter, Crisis, and Help the Homeless.