By Emma Chapman
In early April, the government put their new Homelessness Reduction Act into effect. The act is an adaption of a bill created in 2016 by the homelessness prevention charity Crisis, which requires councils to provide homelessness support to any UK citizen or individual with the right to reside in the UK.
It has been backed with £72m of government funding, in addition to the hundreds of millions already granted to local authorities to try and reduce homelessness – but are these measures enough to combat the problem?
Since 2010, official rough sleeping figures have increased by 169% and there are now 60% more homeless households in temporary accommodation than there were in 2011. Despite these new measures, the act has faced criticism for failing to address the root cause of homelessness. Critics feel that more effort needs to be put into preventing homelessness in the first place – after all, prevention is better than cure.
According to the government’s website, the new act will include “providing free information and advice on preventing homelessness and the rights of homeless people […] including information tailored to the needs of particularly vulnerable groups”. However, some charities are understandably claiming this is not enough – it is one thing to educate vulnerable groups, but direct action is needed to combat the cause of the problem.
The act was trialled in the London borough of Southwark over the past year to great success – the number of households in temporary homes has halved. Successful as the trial was, it did not come without significant cost. The council were given a grant of £1m to trial the system but they needed to add £750,000 of their own money to fully support those in need. Following the trial period, they said that without sustainable funding it is impossible to continue to provide effective homelessness prevention.
Durham has recently seen a spike in homelessness
Homelessness has been a hot topic in recent months, with Bournemouth Borough Council causing huge controversy in February when they installed ‘anti-homeless bars’ on benches. These bars were placed across the middle of the benches in order to stop rough sleepers lying down on them. They were faced with huge backlash – a petition against them gained 19,500 signatures. Rapper Professor Green bought more attention to the issue by making his large social media following aware of the situation, branding the bars “inhumane” and “disgraceful” and helping to remove them.
Durham has recently seen a spike in homelessness and with the recent cold weather, those without shelter were at real risk. Seeing homeless people in Durham is sadly all too common, with individuals frequently sleeping in shop doorways.
In Freshers’ Week, my peers and I were shocked by a talk from police during which they made us aware of groups of people pretending to be homeless in order to attract money from students. They even mentioned examples of couples making up stories of gravely ill children in hospital to get more money. This causes a dilemma for individuals – how are we to know if someone is genuinely homeless and needs help or is simply conning rich students?
Their advice was to offer homeless people food and drink rather than money and to contact a charity who offer temporary accommodation and support. Though, as shown in Southwark, is it really possible for Councils to offer adequate temporary accommodation with the level of funding they are currently receiving?
Unfortunately, as with all issues regarding insufficient funding there comes the inevitable question of “but where will the extra money come from?”. That is one for the Government – for now, all we as individuals can do is alert the professionals who are there to help, such as homelessness prevention charities and shelters. In many cases, though, it really is about the little things. One ex-homeless man said that “a hot drink and 5 minutes of your time” is sometimes the best thing you can offer.
Photograph: SLR Jester via Flikr