Homelessness / poverty

The Homelessness Paradox; It’s not just a housing shortage.

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Home-lessness is often confused with House-lessness, and the belief that to be homeless means that someone therefore lives on the street.  This is part of the paradox.  There are very few true street homeless people. Another part of the paradox, is the view that the single fundamental problem for all homeless people is that they don’t have a house. Building more houses doesn’t solve  homelessness – it is not simply about a lack of properties!

Homelessness is a spectrum of problems and situations.

Rough sleeping is the most extreme form of homelessness.  These are the people who genuinely have nowhere to go, at any time of the day, will sleep outside, in doorways, under bridges, car parks, and are outside the “system”.  Whilst they have rights, they probably struggle to access them as they have “no fixed address” which is the prerequisite for resolving many issues.

In Derby there is around 10-15 rough sleepers. Some might have the view that there are many more than this. This is confused by:

  • “Rough Sleeper – night shift” – those who sleep rough at night for the purposes of begging cash, but have a house/home to go to during the day.
  • “Day beggars” – people who have their own properties but beg for cash during the day and go home to sleep.
  • “Hostel sleepers” – they are accommodated in one of the few hostels in the City but spend the day on the street.

These create an impression that the rough sleeping count is a lot higher.  The people in hostels are homeless, benefit from nightly hot food distribution….but are not rough sleepers.

The Winter Night Shelter run by the Churches sees around 20-30 people per night during Dec- March. With about 50% being in the true rough sleeper population, the remainder will be transient homeless (short-term issues, for a few days), people who see it as a cheap option to spending the night at home,  or those simply in need of company but who do have their own accommodation.

Derby has a “No Second Night Out” strategy which means that people who find themselves on the streets should not spend a 2nd night out. This project  is run by Riverside, in the City who have a network of contacts throughout key agencies who alert them to new incidences of people being transient street-homeless. It is in this situation where they are most effective. Those who are entrenched, and have complex problems, are a different proposition – these will tend to be the people who are in the “official count”.

At a maximum of 15 people, you might think that Derby has a very small “House-lessness” problem – which is true. However, there are many people who have a roof, but who do not have a “home”, a place that they can truly consider to be their own. The “hidden homeless” number is uncounted, but could easily run into the many hundreds, if not thousands, if you include everyone who neither owns a house, nor has a personal rental agreement with either a private landlord, or the Council, nor who is in long-term accommodation with a family member, partner, friend – and not as a sofa surfer.

There is a spectrum of causes and resolutions as to why people become homeless, from:

  • a straightforward “transactional” problem resulting from job/financial difficulties or relationship breakdown, no-fault eviction, fire / flooding through to ;
  • those people with deep-seated complex issues which means that homelessness was an inevitability ( e.g. mental health issues,  childhood abuse, behavioural problems, drugs, alcoholism)

The former end of this spectrum can be dealt with relatively easily, and the person can be a major contributor to their self-help, but the latter are the ones that are “safely hidden” from the public’s gaze. These are the people if, just given a house, will continue to struggle – through no fault of their own.  The house may help with the solution, but then it may create more complication – it requires multi-agency support and focussed mentoring to work with them for the long-term to address  their range of needs and to ensure a sustainable long-term solution.

Too many people who find themselves homeless, and who drop into emergency provision, are vulnerable and lead chaotic lifestyles. If their situation is not addressed promptly, and they are not supported properly,  then their situation can deteriorate rapidly. They slide into alcoholism, use of legal-highs, or Class A drugs  as a way of protecting themselves from the rigours of the emotional environment.  This drives them into a more desperate place which, apart from creating a chronic burden on the range of health and social services, means that their road to recovery is more prolonged and tortuous.

Why do people end up on drugs, or drink?  Don’t they bring the homelessness on themselves?  Wouldn’t it be better if they just stayed clean, and sorted themselves out?  Aren’t they just petty criminals? For many, they start off as well-adjusted, confident, regular members of society but redundancy, relationship breakdown, unexpected evictions, knocked them sideways in an unpredictable and catastrophic way. How far they decline depends on many variables, chance opportunities and committed support. It sounds like a cliché, but it really can happen to anyone!

Being homeless is one of life’s great tragedies,  but who is responsible? This brings us to the final part of the paradox. We should look more towards ourselves, and accept that the level of homelessness and nature of crises that people find themselves in, is less to do with them, and is more of a reflection of how we, as a society, have failed them, and the extent to which we have collectively judged them, chewed them up, spat them out….and then looked the other way.

OTHER LINKS

The Hopelessness of Derby City Council’s Homelessness strategy

 

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