“We envision a country underpinned by well-funded, locally-led public services providing care and support for all - a society rooted in kindness.”
Currently, care and support seem horribly lacking for some of the most vulnerable in our society, the homeless.
Reports on the rise in homelessness tend to focus on larger towns and cities, but homelessness is not confined to London or Manchester. There are also people with nowhere to live in smaller towns such as Buxton and Glossop, and in the countryside. Locally, we don’t know how many, since High Peak Borough Council is unable to provide figures.
Even if we had accurate figures for High Peak, the statistics don’t include the hidden homeless: those who are sofa-surfing at friends’ houses or wandering from one hostel to another. In rural areas the problems may be further hidden since people sleep in caravans, in tents and in outbuildings, with minimal access to amenities. You can occasionally see these places, tucked away in the hope that they will be unnoticed by agencies who might move their inhabitants on.
The causes of homelessness are complicated. Lack of affordable housing is an obvious one, but there are also, for example, relationship breakdown, mental illness and the complexities of the benefits system, not least Universal Credit.
Underpinning many of the problems is lack of resources available from the Central Government, for a decent level of benefits, for coordinated local action, and for mental health and other support services to help tackle the underlying problems which may lead to homelessness. Cuts in local government budgets don’t help. High Peak, like all Councils, has a statutory duty to support the homeless with advice and, depending on the person’s situation, with accommodation. However, without money for enough trained staff, or a decent budget to support provision of housing, how can it do this effectively? High Peak may not be unsympathetic to homeless people, but as a Conservative Council, it is unlikely to put these points to Central Government.
There are plenty of organisations working nationally and locally to improve the situation for homeless people. However, locally, some of these are very small and although they do what they can, provision is fragmented, which doesn’t seem a good use of existing resources. Together with the byzantine benefits system, it is hard to see how a homeless person who might have a complex of problems could find out how to access the help they need.
No-one likes to walk through a town and see someone huddled in a doorway against the cold, or read a sad cardboard notice asking for money for a night in a hostel. Apart from the obvious unfairness of this, better support for homeless people would improve the quality of life for everyone and potentially save money through preventing mental and physical ill health.
All this probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but what is to be done? The High Peak Green Party would:
Look at the scale and causes of homelessness
Have an overview of organisations providing social housing and other support, to make the most efficient use of what’s already available
Increase provision of social and supported housing including bringing unused buildings back into use as accommodation
Provide simple amenities such as showers in towns, for those who don’t have access to them
Work to tackle some of the causes of homelessness: poverty, mental health problems, family breakdown.
This is in line with the Green Party’s overarching policies.