Helping the Homeless

A few friends and I decided about three years ago that we would raise funds to feed the homeless in Reading. Since then we have done that every Friday. I remember the first time we took food a homeless man pulled me to a side and said: “Listen, mate, I appreciate the food, but we do not do vegetables, only meat”. Over the weeks I got to know many of them and listened to their life stories, I can honestly say the difference between many of the homeless and me can be expressed by the proverb “There but for the grace of God, go I”.

From the induction on October 1980 of the right to buy the take up has been huge. In the Thatcher and Major years, the Tories sold off over 1.2 million council homes. Under the Blair and Brown years, Labour sold off over 420,000 council homes. No recent governments have built enough homes to keep up with the demand. The projections are based on the assumptions that England is going to build 210,000 additional households per year between 2014 and 2039, and that 250,000 homes need to be built each year to keep up with demand. It’s no surprise then that we have so many homeless people.

The straightforward way of eliminating homelessness is to provide them with homes. In this country, many successful initiatives are being actioned to help the homeless, and they benefit the homeless significantly. I want to highlight an approach that has been successfully implemented in New York. It’s called “housing first”, and this involves assisting long-term homeless individuals (majority of who are living with mental illness, substance abuse disorders and other serious health problems) directly into subsidised housing and then linking them to support services in the community. Research has found that the majority of long-term homeless people moved into “housing first” apartments remain stably housed and experience significant improvements in their health problems. Housing first approach is far less costly than emergency and other care, such as shelters and hospitals.

Figures shared with the Guardian by campaign group Generation Rent suggests private landlords could be paid as much as £26.7bn a year by the taxpayer.  Borrowing money to provide shelter for the homeless requires a significant commitment, which isn’t a viable or political acceptable option for this government. That is why I support the Lib Dem policy of starting an Infrastructure Bank (similar to the successful Green Bank we set up) to build on government and local authority lands and provide finance to builders to develop new accommodation. Funds from the infrastructure bank should require companies to also build some shelters for the homeless so that local support services can assist them to get their lives under control. Such an approach will provide the homeless individual’s stability and allow them to rebuild their lives.

 

* Cllr. Tahir Maher is a member of the LDV editorial team

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4 Comments

  • Katerina Porter 12th Apr '18 - 12:26pm

    The Right to Buy was presumably much in order to help private landlords who had had a bad time with rent control started during †he War and carrying on for quite a time after. Tahir points out that society as a whole suffers: those council tenants who will never have money to buy, tenants with landlords who could put up rents freely when it is tax payers who pay the housing benefit , and again as he writes a stable home so very important for welbeing and all the problems which follow lack of it. Social housing should be the priority now. Many properties sold under right to buy apparently now belong to private landlords. We should stop the right to buy. It might put some pressure on landlords and some might decide to sell at genuinely “affordable” prices. Having somewhere proper to live is in one of the most important thing in life. There should no right to buy council housing.

  • Can we please get terminology correct? It will aid understanding.

    At the start of the article Tahir is talking really about rough or street sleepers. They may or may not be recognised legally as homeless. Rough sleeping is only the tip of the iceberg of our homelessness tragedy.

    The rest of the article applies to all homeless people. To give an idea of the scale of the problem, in Chelmsford there are between 15 and 25 rough sleepers. Some are not within the definition of “homeless and the council is obligated to help”.

    Chelmsford then has 340 families (well over 1000 people) registered as “homeless and the council is obligated to help”. Many more people are homeless and the council does NOT have to help.

    Stephen Robinson
    LD Housing Spokesperson on Chelmsford council

  • Peter Hirst 12th Apr '18 - 7:33pm

    Everyone comes to homelessness through a different route. In a way it is a cry for help in an uncaring world. No-one should spend more than one night on the streets.

  • Tahir Maher Tahir Maher 12th Apr '18 - 9:57pm

    @Stephen to be honest I didn’t specifically consider definition of homelessness other than an individual who does not have a place to live on a regularly basis and is effectively on the streets. I understand your point about the obligation of council assistance and not (having been involved in fighting to house a number of families). The point for me is that homes or shelters should be made available for all or at least the long term homeless – no matter the legal requirement everyone deserves security (not saying that you in any way implied that was not the case).

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