Chamberlain: We won’t end homelessness with the same old ineffective solutions

In the Times Red Box yesterday, Wendy Chamberlain tackled the continuing issue of homelessness, especially in rural areas.

When asked to think about homelessness, it’s easy to conjure up a mental image of a man, sleeping in a doorway, somewhere in the centre of a big city. When the media reports on homelessness, that’s the stock photo.

But the reality can be very different…

People who experience homelessness are all genders; families as well as single people; spanning all backgrounds. And homelessness is a problem in rural communities as much as it is in large, urban areas.

Homelessness is not limited to visible rough sleeping.

Street homelessness is the most visible and the most extreme form of homelessness while many other forms of homelessness are hidden from sight: people “sofa surfing”; families living in temporary accommodation because they have nowhere else to go; people staying in hostels or night shelters…

Stereotyping of homelessness is a profound problem. It clouds public understanding of the nature and true scale of homelessness in the United Kingdom. And it acts as a barrier to directing attention and resources towards the most proven and effective ways of preventing homelessness in the first place.

This problem applies particularly to homelessness in rural areas…

My casework [in North East Fife] often deals with families at risk of homelessness who have been housed in “scatter flats” across the area. The quality of these flats used as temporary accommodation is of regular complaint to my office and concerns me deeply.

We know that poor-quality accommodation can worsen the health of people with underlying illnesses or conditions. The temporary nature of the accommodation prevents children from settling in school. The inability to put down roots can impact on mental health…

More must be done…

Ambition to do more must be matched by action. However, that action must be undertaken with a view towards change and doing things that are proven to work, and not by simply continuing with old methods that have not succeeded in ending homelessness for good in the past…

It is imperative that we learn from what was successful [during the pandemic] and make every effort to adapt those policies into long-term, achievable projects that will help bring an end to homelessness, once and for all.

And that includes how we think and talk about homelessness. I am convinced that to achieve a lasting end to homelessness we must fully understand and explain the problem…

We must shed the stereotyping and stigma too often associated with homelessness. We must face up to the fact that individuals who experience homelessness are people like us, with personal stories, hopes and dreams.

Too often they have been let down by services or systems that should have been there to support them and prevent such a personal tragedy. They deserve our respect.


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