A safe place to live is a key characteristic of a civilised society. However, more and more people are being left without a permanent roof over their heads.
Homelessness in Lewisham has risen dramatically since 2010, it is now over double the national average. The number of people sleeping rough has also doubled in that time. However, recorded statistics understate the enormity of the problem. Many people don’t go to the local authorities for help, others are turned away because they don’t fall into a ‘priority need’ category.
The Conservatives’ austerity measures have left people vulnerable. Cuts to social care mean one million people are without the care they need and 5m disabled people are now in poverty. The welfare safety net is failing to meet the requirements of those in desperate need of it.
Legislation needs to change, we need to be in a position to intervene and offer assistance and support to homeless applicants before they are pushed to a point of crisis. Last month the Homelessness Reduction Bill had its second reading in parliament, this is one of the aspects it hopes to address. Amongst other things, the Bill looks to improve the help available to homeless people and change legislation so people in need don’t get turned away.
Fierce cuts in local authority budgets have left councils unable to tackle the problem in the most efficient ways. Rather than early intervention, people are being dealt with when they have reached rock bottom. Households are placed in B&BS, many outside of their local area, costing a significant amount of money. At the end of 2015 68,560 households were living in temporary accommodation.
There are now over one million fewer homes owned by local authorities and housing associations than in 1977. Yet we have a growing population. In my constituency Lewisham Deptford the population is set to expand. The Lewisham Central ward population is projected to rise by 23% in ten years. And the Evelyn Ward, also in my constituency, is predicted to increase by 45% over the same period of time.
I have met constituents of mine in Parliament about the Homelessness Reduction Bill and sat in during the debate in late October. I will be making sure I do all I can to make a difference. The Bill has cross party support and has had huge input from Crisis, a charity I support wholeheartedly. I have just signed up to help Crisis at Christmas. They rely heavily on volunteers and its great way to get involved with the local community.
There are some brilliant organisations across the borough that need as much support as possible. Many of them are struggling financially. Attempts to bridge the gaps that the councils are unequipped to fill can be costly. We have recently seen the decommissioning of the START team in Lewisham, they assess homeless people with severe mental health problems and to refer them on to local mainstream services. Further cuts will create holes in our already disjointed services and cost us more in the long term, both financially and socially.
It can be fairly easy to disregard the seriousness of homelessness if it doesn’t present itself as a rough sleeper asking for spare change, but the problem is there and it will only get bigger if we don’t address it properly.