Opinion: Tackling Homelessness Must Be New Year Priority
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities
The new action plan will aim to develop services for young runaways
John Morris, chief executive, Trident Social Investment Group
Those of us who work at the sharp end of the UK’s housing system are witnessing a return to high levels of homelessness of all kinds – ‘official’, or statutory homelessness as defined by those households accepted through the local council route; homelessness that falls outside the legal framework; and hidden homelessness including concealed, sharing and overcrowded households.
‘Official’ homelessness has climbed by one third over the last three years to stand at more than 50,000 homeless families accepted by local councils. The number in cheap bed and bed breakfast hotels has jumped by 10% in the last year alone. And overcrowding has risen to more than one million.
At Trident Social Investment Group, we are experiencing a massive increase in the proportion of our annual lettings made to homeless applicants. Over half of our lettings in 2011/12 were made to homeless applicants for the first time in our 50 year history and this has since grown to 53% in 2012/13. This is equivalent to a fourfold increase from a decade ago.
Trident’s homeless lettings analysis comes in the wake of announcements of figures showing that the West Midlands is now a national hotspot with homelessness soaring by 28% in the last two years alone.
The growing levels of homelessness across the country are being precipitated by a lack of social housing, rising private sector rents and evictions, deepening austerity, the effects of welfare cuts, and long-term and rising youth unemployment.
What is most worrying is that three quarters of Trident’s lettings to homeless applicants were to those assessed as ‘non-statutory’ homeless and who are not recorded in the official figures. These are mostly young, single, living in temporary housing such as hostels and bed and breakfast, sleeping on friends’ floors, or living rough.
Our care and support arm, Trident Reach, has noticed changes in the qualitative nature of the homeless problem with which we are coping alongside the numerical rise. Young homeless people in particular are requiring a wider and deeper range of tenancy support to counter growing levels of socio-economic vulnerability and ever more complex needs. Many arrive at our door on the brink with few personal resources left – either material or spiritual – to cope with life hanging onto the very bottom rung of our societal ladder. The lack of investment in new affordable housing for this group coupled to high youth unemployment risks us presiding over a lost generation with little stake or hope in the future.
At Trident we are investing heavily in support services to help former homeless people sustain their tenancies and enterprises that help young people get trained and into work once their housing needs are met. We are doing this as part of our dedicated ‘social investment’ response to the worsening housing crisis facing our young people in particular.
My one New Year wish for 2014, then, is that the government recognises the damage being done to already vulnerable people and communities, especially in the inner areas of our major towns and cities but also in rural pockets. We are storing-up problems for the future when the building of social housing could provide new homes, new jobs and contribute to the economic recovery in regions such as the West Midlands. I fear, however, that the answer to my wish will be ‘humbug’.