World Homeless Day 2021

Posted: 10 October 2021 11:37 am.

The type of people facing homelessness is changing – but the stigma remains the same

Homelessness now affects more people from more backgrounds than ever before.

Over the last 20 years, the type of individuals turning to our services have changed dramatically – the pandemic has accelerated that.

In the past 18 months we have double the size of our services, with more beds and more outreach support. We are supporting individuals and families from all parts of the community. It real can happen to anyone.

There are no signs of this increase in demand slowing down.

But amongst all of this change there is one thing that’s stayed consistent – the stigma that comes with not having a home.

Recent history of homelessness

In the 1960s and 1970s homelessness was seen in the typical “Cathy Come Home” scenario. Young families in crisis facing the vagaries of the insecure private rented market and our unresponsive public sector services.

The public sympathised and Government responded. The issues were largely addressed in the 70s, initially at least, through the various new laws of the period that followed this landmark programme, and with the wide scale availability of affordable social housing.

In the 1980s and 1990s the stigma of homelessness changed and became dominated by images of rough sleepers in our major cities. They told a story of substance abuse and begging on the streets.

Poverty became viewed as the responsibility of the individual.

Towards the turn of the century the Labour government was successful in tackling street homelessness, and the focus once again returned the rising number of low paid and benefit dependent families who could not afford to buy homes or pay market rents at a time of increasing property prices.

Once again a lack of social housing was the issue.

It’s an issue that sill hasn’t been addressed.

Today’s challenge

The Resolution Foundation estimates there are now more than 750,000 households in serious rent arrears and Citizens Advice estimates over 450,000 of these households face the real prospect of eviction – equivalent to the city of Liverpool.

The increase in redundancy and unemployment we have seen during the pandemic, the end of furlough and withdrawing the £20 per week temporary Covid uplift in Universal Credit means other households now face an uncertain future.

In Greater Manchester there are currently around 4,000 statutory homeless households in temporary accommodation. Shelter estimates that across the UK the total number of homeless households (not just those who are statutory homeless) is now 280,000 - equivalent to the city of Leicester!

The return of rough sleeping

The underlying challenges brought about by our broken housing market is now overlaid with a myriad of other causes of homelessness.

Large numbers of dispossessed rough sleepers, many with complex mental health and substance abuse needs, have returned back onto our streets as increasing rents have become unaffordable, local housing allowances have declined in value and many other different benefit and welfare cuts have been introduced.

During the early days of Covid we were largely able to place all of these people into accommodation within three days and support them to help change their lives.

Many are now in permanent accommodation and their lives are transforming.

If we can do this in three days, then surely we cannot allow this problem to re-emerge and we need to ensure we work together to deliver the Rough Sleeping Accommodation Programme to make rough sleeping a thing of the past.

To do that we must focus our efforts in supporting a number of groups of people:

  • Youth homelessness
  • Care leavers
  • Those facing domestic violence
  • People with mental health and complex needs
  • Former military personnel
  • Ex-offenders
  • Refugees and asylum seekers – especially unaccompanied children

Impacts of Homelessness

For those facing homelessness they are often:

  • sent to temporary accommodation many miles from their families and support networks (sometimes hundreds of miles away)
  • split up from their families into different accommodation
  • placed in low quality and overcrowded B&B and temporary accommodation with no cooking facilities
  • forced to change schools (if they can find one), sometimes more than once or they have to travel long distances to school
  • left with no space or facilities to do homework and study, and cannot afford or have the time to do leisure and sport

Under these circumstances family life is almost impossible and family relationships are strained further (if not broken), physical health and mental health suffers as people feel helpless - often anxiety and depression become the norm.

This is not a short-term issue. Homelessness can last months, if not years, and the impacts can last far longer in people’s life chances and health.

And yet why when you consider the causes of homelessness, the reality is that the vast majority of people are the victims.

Their homelessness was brought about by circumstances beyond their control.

We need to both view and treat people facing homelessness differently.

We must combat stigma and see homelessness for what it usually is – the symptom of a wider problem in our society.

At Stepping Stone Projects we are now working with our partners in the housing sector to help all these groups wherever we can in Greater Manchester and the North-West.

As a charity we have limited resources, but together we can make a massive difference.

Without a change in people’s perception, as we saw with Cathy Come Home, then we’ll continue to treat the symptom and not the cause.

The housing sector knows this. Now we must once again convince the public.

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