As Shelter marked its 50th birthday a rough sleeper died of cold in Birmingham

Rough sleeping has increased by almost 90 per cent in six years

Image: Blodeuwedd

Yesterday, Shelter turned 50 years old on the 1st December. The homeless charity was founded on the back of a wave of public concern following Ken Loach’s seminal 1966 docudrama Cathy Come Home, which shone a light on Britain’s housing crisis.

On the eve of this Golden Anniversary, a homeless man, just 30 years old, died of cold while sleeping rough in Birmingham city centre. That such an event could occur in Britain’s second city in the 21st century, and in close proximity to evident affluence, graphically depicts the depth of our housing crisis, and the extent and depth of inequality and poverty.

There has been outrage across the city and acknowledgement that rough sleeping is on the rise as the effects of welfare caps, restrictions and sanctions collide with a lack of affordable housing and adequate hostel provision.

Although ‘Cathy Come Home’ did not mention Birmingham by name, recordings of the city’s slum dwellers were used to highlight the blight of poor housing and living conditions on the health of residents; especially children.

Jeremy Sandford, the docudrama’s author, said that he had Birmingham specifically in mind when he wrote it. And Tony Garnett, its Birmingham-born producer, acknowledged that the city was featured in much of the filming.

Shelter, once fund-raising was underway in the wake of the first broadcast of ‘Cathy Come Home’, provided grant aid to Birmingham’s fledgling voluntary housing trusts; many of which still exist today, such as Midland Heart.

Although very much bigger than their Shelter-funded antecedents, many have retained their commitment to tackling homelessness in the city and provide a range of hostel and outreach provision alongside permanent housing.

Such organisations remain badly needed today. Nationally, more than 6,500 people sleep rough – up almost 90 per cent over the last six years. That this many people are sleeping on the streets of the sixth largest economy in the world should send a shock wave through our privileged but deeply unequal and divided society.

‘Official’ homelessness has spiralled by more than two fifths in the last six years. And there are now 72,000 families consigned to a meagre existence in cheap bed and breakfast hotels.

Shelter released figures yesterday showing that there are almost 255,000 people with no permanent home across the country. The charity identified ‘hotspots’ as being England’s major cities and towns: Brighton, Birmingham, Slough, Bristol, Coventry, Reading and Manchester came out top, as well as parts of London.

Would it be too much to ask that the Prime Minister, whose Christian faith has been much-publicised in recent days, to provide an emergency fund at this special time of year, to offer extra help to homeless people and to give all rough sleepers, in Birmingham and elsewhere, at least a place to rest their heads out of the cold?

Kevin Gulliver is Director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute, writing in a personal capacity. Follow him on Twitter @kevingulliver

See also: Homelessness has returned to 1900s levels

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