This weekend has seen temperatures dip to freezing or below and many of us have struggled to keep warm over the past few days. You know that feeling, the one when you are in a warm heated house or office but for some reason you just cannot seem to get your bones or feet warm? For me, this brings home the stark reality of life for rough sleepers and those who are homeless.
How can anyone in the world be homeless in 2017 when global wealth has risen by 6.4% over the past year, the fastest rate since 2012 (according to figures from Credit Suisse’s global wealth report for 2017). Even with the economic downturn in the UK over recent years, Britain is still the fifth wealthiest country in the world behind the US, China, Japan and Germany. Britain’s population holds £6.01 trillion in private wealth, a mind-boggling figure and according to the 2017 Sunday Times Rich List, there are now 134 billionaires in Britain. The combined wealth of the top 500 individuals was £580.4 billion and whilst I am the first to admire entrepreneurship and innovation, that is just simply more money than anyone needs or can spend. So, I ask the question, how can we live in such a wealthy society and still have rough sleepers and homeless on our streets night after night? And why are we not being more active about solving the problem, because surely there is a solution to this?
It can be difficult to work out the actual number of individuals who are sleeping rough. According to figures published in January 2017, 4,134 people are estimated to be sleeping rough on any one night. There was an increase of 16% from 2015 to 2016, while since 2010 rough sleeping estimates show a staggering increase of 134%.
There is no single reason why someone can end up without a home. Personal circumstances and wider factors both play their part. The most common reported reason is relationship breakdown; however, individuals can arrive at the point of homelessness after a long chain of other life events. Some factors and experiences can make some individuals more vulnerable to homelessness: these include poor physical health, mental health problems, alcohol and drug issues, bereavement, experience of care, and experience of the criminal justice system.
The prospects for solving poverty in the UK are worrying. Changes to benefits and tax-credits for working-age families are reducing the income of many of those on already low incomes. High housing costs continue to reduce the incomes available for those in poverty to meet other needs. This squeeze on living standards is already storing up problems for the future; a fifth of people on low incomes have ‘problem debt’; most are not building up a pension; the decreasing proportion of the working-age population buying their own home means that in the future more older people are likely to rent and have higher housing costs in retirement. Scary thought indeed for our millennial generation. Will this lead to more homelessness in the future?
I am unsure what the long-term solution is, what I do know is that there are solutions out there. For example, Liverpool City Council have just announced that it is to establish its own ethical building company to deliver 10,000 new homes across the city. The new company which is called ‘Foundations’ will also create 2,000 new jobs across the city. The Foundations delivery plan includes:
- Bespoke new housing for people who want to downsize, releasing larger homes for families
- New homes in supported environments for the homeless, rough sleepers and those with addiction problems
- Affordable rents which will help some people save for a deposit to buy the house they rent
- Adaptable housing which suits those with disabilities or changing needs due to their age; or can be easily converted in the future, saving the council in social care costs
In addition to the move by Liverpool City Council, on Friday 8th December, Liverpool Property Tycoon, Lawrence Kenwright of Signature Living, opened a new city centre homeless shelter until February, utilising one of his properties in Hatton Garden. Announcing the move on social media, he urged his followers to share the post as far and wide as possible so that people knew where to send the rough sleepers and homeless, saying ‘there is no reason to sleep in freezing temperatures’. Since the announcement last Friday, something even more amazing has happened, the people who have accessed the shelter have today opened their first homeless car park at Kingsway House on Hatton Garden and on Thursday of next week they will be opening a Homeless Car Wash, Lawrence has given them the space to run it and use the proceeds to support the 40 people, who are now staying at the shelter. If this works, and I have a feeling it will, Liverpool could be the first City in the UK to have no-one sleeping on the streets.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.