21st Century Homelessness

21st century homelessness - image photograph credit by Matthew Taylor
Homeless in Manchester: 2018 calls for change. Image by Matthew Taylor

For as long as historical records have been kept, Britain has suffered a homelessness problem. Housing is a basic human requirement, yet we must recognise the importance of its commodity stature: Buildings and properties are tangible assets which have revealed over the last century to be one of the most astute financial investment choices a person can make. History shows that we have long been trying to find a balance between capitalist economics and our moral responsibility to ensure that the British housing market is equitable - and accessible - for alli.

Modern homelessness began as a result of economic stress in society, combined with reductions in the availability of affordable housing, for a rapidly-expanding population. Traditionally, homelessness has been a circumstance reserved for the poverty stricken and most disadvantaged members of society; yet at the time of commencing this research study in 2016, more than 1.8 million households occupy our nation’s social housing waiting lists, clearly evidencing that attainable access to accommodation which is both affordable and sustainable is a pressing need for today’s working-class populationii.

Homelessness and poverty are inextricably entwined. The United Kingdom is home to an identified 3.9 million citizens in "persistent poverty" - people who have lived with less than 60% of national average disposable income for two of the past three years - and are therefore, frequently unable to pay for necessities such as housing, food or childcare. Sadly, many people view homelessness as the result of individual personal failings, however the UK’s national homelessness campaigning charity, Shelter, state
this belief is belied by the facts: Homelessness is caused by a complex interplay between a person's individual circumstances and adverse 'structural' factors outside their direct controliii.

Homelessness of the 21st Century does not discriminate. Britain is currently facing a homelessness crisis. Nevertheless, whilst government statistics state that in 2016, 4,134 people slept outdoors on any one night across England - over double the number counted in 2010 - it is almost impossible to get an entirely reflective picture or accurate numerical indication of just how vast the problem isiv. According to the wellknown national charity representing single homeless people, Crisis, there are no conclusive figures pertaining to just how many people are experiencing homelessness cross the UK todayv. Moreover, the problem of homelessness goes far deeper than that of rough sleeping and vagrancy.

Rough sleeping is the most visibly shocking kind of homelessness, but this amounts to a very small proportion of people who could realistically be said to be ‘without a suitable, permanent home’. Whilst there are estimated to be around 58,000 individuals in England who, each year, are in contact with homelessness, substance misuse and offending services and who are said to have ‘multiple and complex’ needsvi, this is only scratching the surface of what it really means to suffer a housing crisis in Britain today. Homelessness impacts many more people than those we see huddled in doorways, or seeking the help of food banks and supporting outreach teams.

Back in 2002, Crisis identified that an estimated 380,000vii ‘hidden homeless’ individuals were residing in Britain; those who were ‘officially unregistered’ as homeless, but sleeping wherever they could - in emergency accommodation, staying with friends and family, or squatting in empty buildings - because they didn’t have anywhere else to live. Whilst it is impossible to access any further public data or official estimates of numbers of ‘hidden homeless’ individuals residing in the United Kingdom today, it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say the situation is well on its way to becoming borderline pandemic.

Across the country, people are getting more and more desperate in their quest to find somewhere dry, warm and safe to rest and recuperate each night. In the year to March 2016, waste collection firm Biffa discovered 175 homeless people risking their lives in order to attempt sleep within its commercial bin containersviii. By April 2017, Manchester’s rough sleepers were found to be living in squalid tunnels underneath the city streetsix. In the same month, London’s homeless community defended a man’s
decision to sleep perilously close to a 20ft drop into River Thames, stating ‘it's the safest place to be’x.

Citations

i. https://www.crisis.org.uk/media/236799/crisis_homelessness_kills_es2012.pdf
ii. https://england.shelter.org.uk/campaigns_/why_we_campaign/Improving_social_housing/Why_we_need_more_social_housing (Web version unavailable)
iii. https://england.shelter.org.uk/campaigns_/why_we_campaign/tackling_homelessness/What_causes_homelessness (Web version unavailable)
iv. https://www.homeless.org.uk/facts/homelessness-in-numbers/rough-sleeping/rough-sleeping-our-analysis (Web version unavailable)
v. https://www.crisis.org.uk/pages/homeless-def-numbers.html (Web version unavailable)
vi. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/417230/150325_AddressingComplex_Needs-_final_publication_amended.pdf (Web version unavailable)
vii. https://www.crisis.org.uk/data/files/publications/HHBIC_report%5B1%5D.pdf (Hidden Homelessness: Britain's Invisible City – Crisis. Web version unavailable)
viii. https://resource.co/article/three-people-week-found-sleeping-biffa-bins-10919
ix. https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/its-manchester-2017-homeless-living-12968151
x. https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/its-safer-than-the-street-homeless-people-defend-man-sleepingon-ledge-20ft-above-thames-a3518506.html

Copyright © by Amy.F.Varle, January 2018.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.

The views and opinions expressed in this report and its content are those of the author and not of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, which has no responsibility or liability for any part of the report.

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Next'SWEEPING' THE HOMELESS

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
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