Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The massive problem of homelessness in London and how we can together help eradicate it.

It's that time of year again. You're worried about last minute Christmas shopping, how drunk you'll get at the office Xmas party and of course the possible stress of preparing to see your family over the festive season. For London's 742 homeless (as of 2014) they don't have the luxury of worrying about these things. According to the Department for Local Government this is a 37% increase from the previous year. In a supposedly growing economy with falling unemployment this is an alarming statistic. In 2013/2014 111,960 households across the country applied to their local councils for homelessness assistance. A rise of 26% since 2009/10. Another recent report by Crisis showed that 21% of people that had their benefit sanctioned in the last year were made homeless as a result.

But the problem of homelessness goes much deeper than this. The people I mention above are part of what is called the "statutory homeless" which is officially counted by the government. This does not take into account the 'hidden homeless'. Think about some of the people you see at tube stations or outside the supermarket. According to a GLA report, between April 2014 and March 2015, 7,581 people were seen sleeping rough in London. This is an increase of 16% from 2013/2014.

It is hard to know exactly how many people are homeless at any given point. Independent research carried out for Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that almost one in ten people in the UK say they have been homeless at some point. That's one in ten of you that read this. There are many complex reasons why people are made homeless. Alcohol and drug abuse, problems at home, a harsh rise in rent, losing their job, benefit sanctions etc. The fact that there are so many that are left for so long is just wrong.

So this all sounds like doom and gloom but what can be done. Well individually we can donate to brilliant charities such as Crisis and Shelter that specifically give advocacy and help to the homeless or individually we can help any homeless person we see by giving them food or a hot drink or by offering to take them somewhere they can get help. The problem is though we as a country are relying too much on individual generosity and charity to help homeless people. We all think we are helping when we do these things and in a way we are. But it is only a sticking plaster rather than a real solution to the homelessness crisis we are facing. The simple truth is, we need to build more social housing for these people to live in.

According to the Mayor's Office, a net of 68,000 new homes were built in London in the last three years. Almost 18,000 of which are apparently "affordable homes". This includes homes to buy. But as a lot of us in London are painfully aware, buying a home in London is rarely affordable. What it doesn't say in the report is how many of these affordable homes that were built were genuinely affordable social housing. What we need in London in particular is for City Hall to be tougher on big developers about the amount the social homes they build and work with councils and community groups more about the type of housing they need in their area rather than just meet the needs of big developers. We also need a genuine collective outreach team at City Hall to help the many homeless people that are being ignored and for central government to give City Hall the power to control rents in the private sector. Additionally, we need the change the culture and thinking in this country that just sees houses as assets to buy rather than a human right. But that is more of a long term aim.

Yes I'm a Green Party candidate for the London Assembly so naturally I will say vote Green in the next election to see proper action on housing and homelessness. Right now though you can individually and/or collectively lobby every level of government about this and support council tenants protecting their homes from being demolished and them being evicted. Currently there is a "Homes for All" campaign in Waltham Forest so that is something to get involved in. People of all political parties and none need to work together to eradicate homelessness once and for all and to not stand by on the other side while our fellow citizens suffer in silence.