More than 3,000 people in London have become homeless under the Conservatives
Homelessness is not just something that exists on our streets. The ‘hidden homeless’ are now a growing section of our society, with tens of thousands of families and individuals currently residing on the sofas and floors of friends, family and even strangers.
Our cities’ homeless charities, organisations and shelters are overrun and vastly underfunded, resulting in a huge number of desperate people being turned away. Local councils have taken to placing families in hostels and B&B’s, because the demand for temporary and emergency accommodation simply cannot meet the demand.
Homelessness is a growing issue in the UK and homelessness does not discriminate. Contrary to common belief, homelessness does affect a vast number of women as well as men. It’s reported that women make up 14 per cent of London’s rough sleepers with 3 per cent being transgender. 26 per cent of homeless charity service users are women.
The homelessness charity Crisis reports that most homeless women are frequently subjected to violence, verbal abuse and sexual assault. As a result, they try to become ‘invisible’. While 60 per cent of homeless women have slept rough, remaining invisible means that only 12 per cent have accessed the help of street outreach teams.
I have experienced homelessness both as an adolescent and as a mother. As a homeless teenager, I would frequently have to take my belongings to school with me in bin bags. I would walk the streets most evenings, bags in hand, hoping that one of my friends’ parents would agree to let me stay. Under-25’s advice centres and the Citizens Advice Bureau advisors all told me the same thing. Living in the busiest city in the country, I was low priority for housing.
I eventually stopped going to school all together. In the following months I was offered places in squats, offered Class A drugs by men who I later discovered were pimps and frequently offered the chance to become a ‘high earning escort’.
Two years later, after having lived with a relative I found myself homeless once more – only this time I had a child. After being taken in by a busker, my daughter sleeping in a cot we’d made from drawers and sofa cushions, my child and I spent our days travelling across London to spend every waking moment in my council housing office. My advisor refused to see us most days, turning us away.
In this time it did strike me how lucky I was to be a woman. After so many years of sofa surfing, it was apparent that men in particular were often very likely to let you stay with them, no matter how well you did or didn’t know them. Despite being subjected to domestic violence, death threats, and frequently being offered money for sex I did feel that my gender was an advantage.
Still, I was turned away by local authorities day after day and suffered from depression.
The Greater London Authority (GLA) reports that over 3,500 people have become homeless and slept rough in the last five years under the Conservatives. Based on these statistics, a further 1,000 will become homelessness and sleep rough in the next year. Shelter reports that over 93,000 children will see the New Year in with no home in 2016.
To address homelessness, we need to first put to one side the economic aspect and concentrate on the human aspect of the issue. The homeless may not be considered ‘profitable’, but every human being is worth investing in.
I am involved with ‘The Labour Campaign to End Homelessness’ so that we can see strong, viable policies to tackle homelessness in the 2020 Labour manifesto. We want to see an end to both visible and hidden homelessness by tackling the issue at the core.
We need to see policies that prevent the selling of social housing to private investors and that actively work towards building new council housing. We need to invest in those who do find themselves homeless and rehabilitate rough sleepers assessed as having drug, alcohol and mental health support needs, to enable them to rejoin society.
I want to see a system that works for all and a welfare state that we can once again be proud of.Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.