What is Homelessness?
We are only too aware of street homelessness - people sleeping rough on benches and in doorways, this has grown by 169% between 2010 and 2018 across the UK.
There is however another problem with “hidden homelessness” which accounts for 62% of the homeless population in the UK. These include people "sofa-surfing" with friends or relatives, people living in hostels, shelters, squats or bed and breakfasts.
Broadly speaking, the law defines someone as being homeless if they do not have a legal right to occupy accommodation, or if their accommodation is unsuitable to live in. This can cover a wide range of circumstances, including, but not restricted to, the following:
- having no accommodation at all
- having accommodation that is not reasonable to live in, even in the short-term (e.g. because of violence or health reasons)
- having a legal right to accommodation that you cannot access (e.g. if you have been evicted illegally)
- living in accommodation you have no legal right to occupy (e.g. living in a squat or staying with friends temporarily)
What help is available?
Local councils have a legal duty to provide advice and assistance to people who are legally defined as homeless or threatened with homelessness. Local authorities also have a statutory duty to house those in "priority need". Broadly speaking, people in this category are either pregnant, have children, are under 18, are 18-21 and care leavers or have been made homeless through fire, flood or other emergency event. The council may decide people are in "priority need" if they are classed as "vulnerable" as a result of old age, disability, serious mental health issue, being the victim of violence or harassment, being a veteran or having been in prison, a young offenders institute or a care home.
For those in "priority need", provided a person has a right to live in the UK, is not intentionally homeless and does not have personal local support available, the local authority must provide temporary accommodation until such time as that person can be re-housed.
What causes homelessness?
Homelessness is a hugely complex issue with no one cause, and no simple solution. Although drug or alcohol abuse can be a contributing factor, it can occur as a result of other reasons such as relationship breakdown, job loss or mental health issues.
Recent changes in the welfare system have shown a huge increase in those from an otherwise stable background experiencing homelessness as a result of eviction.
Given the extent of the problem and local funding cuts, it is more important than ever that charities such as The Haven step in and help support the growing issue of homelessness (there are currently 320,000 estimated homeless people in the UK).