Last week I attended the inaugural meeting of the new All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ending Homelessness. APPGs exist on all kinds of issues but this one attracted my attention for the bold ambition in its name. Many would say that ending homelessness is an unachievable ambition. But if you want to end a deep cause of misery you need to aim high.
There are currently about 2,750 people sleeping rough in England every night. The number of people in temporary accommodation is around 68,500 and the number of statutory homeless is about 53,500. Many are surprised at the number of rough sleepers with most guessing that it would be much higher than that figure. Of course these numbers fluctuate but if you, like me, feel a sense of society’s failure when you see a huddled figure sleeping in a doorway, this is a problem that needs nailing. If the fifth largest economy in the world can’t deal with two or three thousand rough sleepers then what can we do?
Tackling the reasons for homelessness is at the heart of new initiatives coming from organisations like The Centre for Social Justice and Crisis. Single homeless people are likely to have faced considerable challenges in their lives, 64% have been unemployed, 49% have suffered from poor mental health, 48% from drug dependency, 46% from alcohol dependency, and 41% have spent time in prison. About a fifth have suffered domestic abuse, about a quarter spent time in care as a child, and about a sixth have literacy problems. Tellingly, around 80% have a least one support issue, while more than half had faced four or more.
In West Berkshire we have wonderful organisations like Loose Ends which provide meals, clothes and advice for rough sleepers. There is the Two Saints hostel that does much more than just provide beds. These bodies are invaluable but they would be the first to agree that they are not able to provide the means to end most cases of homelessness. This requires a holistic approach to tackling all the factors in each homeless person’s life. We have to see what works well in communities in Britain and around the world and roll that out across the country. This will mean money and determination and the kind of high ambition that wants to end the problem for good.