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It will come as no surprise to many to learn that the UK is currently in the grip of a homelessness crisis.
It will come as no surprise to many to learn that the UK is currently in the grip of a homelessness crisis. As property and rental prices rise, and the number of housing association places shrinks, more people than ever are being forced out onto the streets.
Many more are becoming ‘invisibly’ homeless - living on friends’ sofas, or hostels and the like. Not since Victorian times - perhaps even before - has Britain seen such a stark and horrible picture of poverty and homelessness within its towns and cities. What’s going on? And what can you do to help?What’s Behind The Homelessness Surge?
There are various factors coming together in a perfect storm to push people out of their homes, and/or prevent them from gaining homes. Briefly put, these are as follows:
- Housing crisis. Despite there being over half a million empty or ‘second’ homes in the country, there is a serious dearth of available property on the market. That which is available is enormously expensive. Never before have rents and property prices been so high compared to the average wage. Buying property is an impossible dream for most young people, and even rentals are beyond the financial reach of many.
- Cost of living. Even those earning a regular wage often struggle to make the rent, due to the cost of living. Compared to average earnings, the current cost of living is extraordinarily high. This makes it incredibly hard to save up things like rental deposits and estate agent fees.
- Restrictive contracts. Partly because it’s a landlord’s market, and partly to cover their own backs, landlords and estate agents are becoming increasingly restrictive about the tenants they’ll take on. ‘No children, no pets, no smokers, no DSS’ is a constant refrain on letting listings. Furthermore, in the post credit-crunch age, mandatory credit checks excludes a vast swathe of the population from renting.
- Addiction, trauma, and mental illness. Many people become homeless after suffering trauma which renders it impossible for them to live a normal life. Others are mentally ill, have learning difficulties, or are suffering from drug addictions. Such people all too easily fall between the cracks of society, and end up suffering on the streets. Even those who are not ill may quickly become so once homeless, and many homeless people turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Such people need serious and sustained professional help, but all too often this is unavailable or unobtainable at point of need.
What Can You Do?
There are several ways you can make a difference to the homeless in the UK. Here are just a few:
- Donate to charity. There are lots of homelessness charities in the country, including Shelter, Crisis, and more localised ventures like Simon On The Streets in Leeds, Huddersfield, and Bradford. All of these charities need resources to carry on doing the work that they do. Money is always welcome, but if you can’t or don’t want to donate money, you can donate clothing, food, and other essentials to homelessness charities and shelters.
- Treat beggars with caution. Most rough sleepers do not actually beg. Those who do may not spend the money in appropriate ways. Drug addicts frequently attempt to tug on the heartstrings of kindly passers by. This is not to say that beggars do not need or deserve help - they do. But your money would be better spent in donations to relevant charities. If you really want to help the begging individual, ask them what they need and buy it for them. This not only provides them with something useful, it also gives them some human interaction - vital for many who feel abandoned by society.
- Engage politically. On a less individualised level, you could help by getting to grips with the problem at its root. Petition Parliament to provide affordable housing, to sort out the housing associations, to make renting fairer, to lower the cost of living, to provide a living wage etc etc. These things could make housing available to a great many people who currently can only dream of being able to afford rent somewhere. There are many ways you can engage with the politics surrounding this issue. At the simplest, but also perhaps most important level, you can vote for political candidates who you feel will do something about this problem. You can also sign petitions, join demonstrations, and write to your MP to demand action on homelessness.