So, you’re on the streets. You feel like you’ve reached rock bottom. You don’t have many possessions and they’re at risk of being stolen. Later on, it gets dark and cold. You want protection from the weather. You look around and see a cardboard box. Luckily, it’s big enough to cover you. Then you look for passageways and places to hide. Places where passersby and drunks on a night out won’t pester you, laugh at you and abuse you. All being well, your possessions will still be with you in the morning.
You might think this is an extreme case, but it isn’t. The fact is that many rough sleepers face this sort of situation on a regular basis. It can often lead to a spiral of mental and physical decline.
“The street will destroy you completely – I saw that happen within a few weeks with people … You can’t swim anymore, up the fucking river. It drags you down.”‘Martins’, from ‘Four Feet Under: Stories of homelessness in London’
First, the good news. There are a few different options for rough sleepers:
- Emmaus offers ‘communities’ where people can stay for as long as they need and social enterprises pay for a variety of things such as food and allowances.
- There are a large number of hostels across the country, like O’Hanlon House run by Homeless Oxfordshire and Westbourne House in Hull.
- There are night shelters, such as the 36 bed Shelter from the Storm in London, or the many operated by the Salvation Army.
Now for the not-so-good news. Between 2010 and 2018, bed spaces for the homeless dropped from 42,655 to 34,497. At the time there were 77,000 people registered as homeless (which is more than just rough sleepers). You may remember from part 1 in this series that official rough sleeper statistics are wildly inaccurate. In reality, things are much worse.
Since 2018 closures have continued. For example, William Booth House in Hull closed this year due to financial issues. Many of the roughly 100 residents needed new accommodation, but a response to a query told me some are back on the street.
Can you understand why some provisions are avoided?
Stories from the street: Simon
I work in Beverley twice a month. I was going to go to a coffee shop on my lunchbreak when I saw a homeless person with a sign. What caused him to be there? I got closer and noticed the sign said he was a Royal Navy veteran and he displayed an ID number. I started talking to him and an hour later he had related his heartbreaking story:
- He was in the Navy and on Vanguard class nuclear submarines. He was discharged on compassionate grounds in order to take care of a seriously ill family member. That person died and Simon eventually became homeless.
- He has been in accommodation before. With one place the company running it went under and there was another where it was an empty shell. With the latter he said he was given a £500 grant, but that didn’t last long.
- He has a daughter and it’s been a long time since he’s seen her. He doesn’t want her to see him like this.
- Since becoming homeless he’s developed a problem with alcohol (Simon said it takes him away from his troubles), but he’s trying to get sober. His words were slurred, so there have been long-term effects.
- He’s had sepsis.
- He’s bi-polar and has access to medication, but this, along with other things, has been stolen previously.
- His current stint of rough sleeping started in February.
- He doesn’t like hostels and shelters due to crime and drugs.
In more positive news, he uses a friend’s address for post and to charge his phone. In addition, he told me he’s had multiple offers of help.
I didn’t have any coins on me, so I went to get him a large coffee and sandwich. He thanked me.
However, soon after that chat, Beverley residents and workers informed me he was seen in a restaurant. He was also seen with a woman multiple times. Someone (who didn’t want to be named) told me their organisation has been working with him and he’s refused offers of help. He also has a history with drugs.
Commander Darren Mason OBE from the Ministry of Defence, confirmed via email that he is ex-Royal Navy. He’s been seen sleeping in doorways and passageways. If he does spend time with a woman, he is entitled to a love life! As for the restaurant, I have no idea how recent this was or if it was even him.
Simon agreed he might have been better off staying in the Navy, but he acted in the interests of his family. Unfortunately, some things were out of his control and a good man who served his country ended up on the street.
I genuinely hope that he accepts and gets the help he needs.
Putting housing first
Securing permanent accommodation is the end of a (sometimes) long journey. However, social, health and financial problems can make tenancies fail.
There’s another way.
- Enabling independent lives through housing
- Respect for choice
- Rehabilitation and empowerment of the resident
- Integration into the community and society.
Housing is given early on, alongside a tailored support scheme. Essentially, you are given a property as well as the tools to sustain it. Support is not forced upon the homeless people, though. The amount of time people have been in the scheme varies, but there are many cases where people go on to live independent lives.
In 2017, there were three UK trials – Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands. Reports stated that despite ‘positive stories’, there were issues in getting properties and staff. This shouldn’t be a surprise really given the national social housing crisis. Sadly, there are no signs of further trials.
Scotland has made a limited success of it though. Through the work of Social Bite and the Scottish government, 579 people are no longer homeless and the scheme is being rolled out across all local authorities.
For all the positive words from the government, change has been very slow. We still have rough sleepers competing for limited accommodation options that can be extremely poor quality or expensive – sometimes both. There are some good facilities, but not enough.
In the final part of this series, I will look at some of the things that need to be done in order to make a real difference and end rough sleeping for good.