Sunday, 6 April 2014

Who Houses The Homeless?

If ever I wonder what hateful people think, I head straight for my search term counter. Mindful that I cannot unsee the horror, I brace myself for an onslaught of cruel and unusual bigotry in the form of statements such as ‘I force girls,’ or troubling comments on my unintentional SEO bait blogpost about rubber gloves.

Then come the truly hideous questions about how to throw tenants onto the streets without notice.

But sometimes my dwindling faith in humanity is reanimated by questions like this – ‘How do I give a homeless person somewhere to live?’

I’m glad someone out there is so kind, because not many people will house those formerly roofless. This is mostly due to erroneous perceptions about ‘the homeless’. Not everyone on the enormous list of those turning to councils for help are chaotic, disruptive, a risk, nor did they bring the situation on themselves. There but for fate walk you and I.

As for the common prejudice about drug use well… if I’d spent Winter sleeping outside I would hoover up any medication offered to me, legal or not, as, dear reader, would you.

Furthermore, when in the process of setting life back on track, we’d be lacking the litany of references required – employer previous landlord, banks, and wouldn’t have the vital six weeks upfront or months deposit.

Some councils help. They underwrite tenancies, act as guarantors, overseeing tenancies then liaising with owners. The Social Fund and Crisis loans from The DWP are long gone, replaced by pay day loans, so this help is essential.

Hostels are oversubscribed. If you’re recovering from mental illness or substance addiction issues, this complicates housing even more. This time is the most extreme form of gap year – months spent in recovery, or looking for work must be explained away to those who might judge you and so refuse to house you.

The next hurdle is the race for housing within limits set by benefit caps, or local housing allowance, which limit where poor people without problems, not just those with chaotic backstories are permitted to live.

People without homes are no longer given priority in social housing, but sent straight into the hellish private sector badlands and left to fend for themselves. They have just six months safety. Renewal time comes round so fast.

Perhaps some people could share houses with rent paid in return for care or support; I know schemes like this exist, but they need to be patrolled or regulated, so can be expensive. Still; better than a bench.

Yes, I know that some people are homeless after disruptive or abusive or criminal behaviour, but they’re a minority. Most people simply undergo challenges like unemployment or relationship breakdown, then mental health problems – the three horsemen of homelessness.

So we need some enlightenment – more people like the person who inspired this post. Yes, let’s be realistic – kindness is never simple. But since it’s so easy for anyone to fall between the cracks, we need to be more prepared to accept that anyone – literally anyone could end up on the streets.


Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

RG I started my housing career as an 18 year old working in a 1,200 bed direct access night-shelter in Peckham South London known as “The Camberwell Spike”.

Dormitories containing 40 men each with a large communal dining room were the conditions and the building was constructed in the early 1800s as a workhouse I believe. It was certainly a workhouse in the late 1800s and a notorious shit-hole by the 1930s when George Orwell stayed there whilst writing ‘Down and out in Paris and London’.

I started there with the usual stereotypes of ‘Dossers’ as they were politely known at the time and by the end of week one I got to know them personally and their back-stories and you are spot on, we are all of us just a couple of turns of the dice and a bad decision away from them.

A job loss, a divorce piled on, a drinking to get over it strategy and bingo….thats all it takes.

The frightening thing was seeing people new to being street homeless talk about embarrassment and getting their lives back on track but then how quickly it all normalised and they gave up.

A fear of being homeless entered my being in that first week and it’s never left because I saw and still see how frighteningly easy it is.

Ironically the Camberwell Spike is still there but those dormitories are now luxury open plan flats that sell for £600,000…..go figure.

RenterGirl said...

I know Ben. It's also the hidden homeless - sofa surfing, clinging on, moving back with parents. I don't know how some people can be so judgemental about a situation that also happens when someone without any additional complications - no substance abuse, in (albeit low paid) employment and an excellent tenant is given notice... just because, and then simply cannot find anywhere else to live. It really can happen to anyone.

space cadet said...

"The frightening thing was seeing people new to being street homeless talk about embarrassment and getting their lives back on track but then how quickly it all normalised and they gave up."

True that. Same for unemployment. At first the shame gets you up in the morning, applying for jobs. Then the contempt, the lack of any real help, the lack of understanding and management and all the tar brushing just keep you there.

Sazzle Dazzle said...

Depaul UK, a youth homelessness charity runs a fantastic scheme called Nightstop.

Check it out:

RenterGirl said...

Yes - that's such a good scheme. Thanks for reminding me!

Anonymous said...

could there be anything worse than being street homeless..the thought of scares the shit out of me and if your on low pay like myself and thousands of others its just a heartbeat away,truly terrifieing