Trying to understand homelessness

A Personal View (and a few stats)

This is more than just a complicated issue. It is actually ruining people´s lives and in many cases, it is ending them. This crisis has been given a name, ´homelessness´ and the people affected have been given a label ´the homeless´. As well as dehumanising and stigmatising people going through a very difficult situation,  allows us to safely distance ourselves.

Unfortunately, this epidemic is not going away. Far from it. Our national crisis is on the increase.  It´s far reaching, crosses social divides and so often comes at people unawares and with a high personal price.  It´s right we should be shocked and right that we feel uncomfortable.  Not just because it´s a national crisis, but because it could so easily happen to any of us.

Experience of becoming homeless is neither noble, character-building, enriching or life-enhancing. It´s never a lifestyle choice. Many are fortunate to find help and support, whilst a rising number are unable to find that vital lifeline. These people are in real danger of becoming yet another harrowing statistic – the number of deaths on our streets.

Let’s look at some stats concerning homelessness in Greater Manchester, hopefully dispel some myths and misconceptions and see if there´s anything we can all do to help the situation.

Different Forms of Homelessness
(Greater Manchester Numbers – MCC 2017/18)

  • People who are street homeless/rough sleeping – 125
    (There is the question of people begging. Are people actually homeless or just begging? Or both? A very difficult question to answer but surely either way people deserve compassion. Most people who are homeless are not on the streets begging, and many people who are begging are not homeless. This argument rages on)
  • People in unsupported temporary accommodation (UTA´s) – 600
    (People in UTA´s, often called ´the hidden homeless´ are mostly single vulnerable  people ineligible for full formal housing support, who are often sent to the worst corners of the housing market: poor quality bed and breakfast accommodation, private hostels and short-stay shared houses)
  • People in supported temporary accommodation – 2000
    (Supported housing is accommodation for people who often need support with everyday tasks to help them live in their own home. This may mean a hostel or other short-term shared housing. For people with multiple or complex needs it might mean longer-term housing. People stay in supported housing until they are ready to look for permanent housing. This can often take years, quite simply because of the lack of affordable housing).
  • Unsafe or unsuitable accommodation – numbers unknown, presumed very high
    (Many people find themselves living in unsafe, unsuitable and badly maintained private accommodation. Oftentimes with inadequate water supply, pests and/or vermin, faulty electrics etc. Sadly, some landlords prefer to evict tenants rather than do repairs This is known as a ´revenge eviction´)
  • People at possible risk of eviction in Greater Manchester – 80,000
    (This is the number of people in Greater Manchester currently on the social housing waiting list)

What causes someone to become homeless?

  • Structural factors include:
    Poverty – about 20% of households are now living in poverty, including over 4m working households
    Insecure tenancy and lack of affordable housing
    Unemployment and insecure employment (zero hr contracts)
    An increasingly complex and hard-to-navigate benefits system
  • Individual factors include:
    Poor physical or mental health (often the consequence of severe childhood trauma)
    Experience of violence, neglect, abuse, harassment or hate crime
    Drug dependence, (including society´s legal drug – alcohol)
    Relationship breakdown
    Loss of income
    Experience of the prison system
    Experience of the care system

For many people it´s a combination of one or more factors that lead to homelessness and there sometimes isn´t one single intervention that can tackle this on its own, at population, or at an individual level. (Troubling to note that the major cause of homelessness in Greater Manchester is currently eviction)

Who´s to blame?

It´s probably time to acknowledge that we have a big problem and perhaps it’s too easy to point the finger at those who sell off premium land to the highest bidder and to others who in turn create urban ´coffee bar villages´ in a city where the majority of local people simply cannot afford to live.

“There simply isn´t enough affordable housing and support for people who find themselves homeless. Perhaps it´s time to stop blaming individuals for their circumstances and take a closer look at the systems currently in place that are letting people down”

What can we do?

There is currently so much already being done by so many people. People are working towards changing a system that is so obviously broken. Countless charities, organizations, businesses, the public sector and the faith sector. Volunteers, outreach teams, students, police, councils, the digital sector and of course, individuals.

Find out how you can help:

I hope it´s answered a few questions. Please be aware, this is an opinion piece and does necessarily represent the views of Street Support

Graham Wood, Media & Comms, Street Support