By Calum Rosie, writer and correspondent for Immigrationnews.co.uk
In a time when the world’s richest people have increased their wealth by $600bn, almost 100,000 people in the UK are facing homelessness thanks to the economic turbulence caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, adding to the staggering number of people currently living unhoused across the country.
Homelessness in the UK has always been a shameful issue, but due to recent circumstances surrounding the pandemic, the UK Government’s failure to address it is tantamount to a national disgrace. And since the government refuses to take positive action, what then can the country’s charities and social enterprises do to tackle homelessness? Unfortunately, there probably isn’t one simple solution, but rather a multitude of techniques will be required.
To that end, many charities and social enterprises are turning to social housing as a temporary salve to the homelessness issue. Social housing will provide safe, affordable, and high-quality homes to those most in need. It acts as an alternative to other temporary accommodation and aims to give people who would otherwise be homeless the support to escape from that life.
Social housing will allow residents to live and socialise together, and is a superior alternative to the likes of homeless hostels and even council housing, because trained staff will be on site to provide meaningful, 24-hour support to residents.
Well-known homelessness support charity Shelter recently commissioned a report on their vision of how to tackle homelessness in the future, where they recommended constructing 3 million more social homes, introducing new rent reforms to increase the standard of living across the board, and advocated for social renters to have a more vocal presence in the community.
Other notable charities and social enterprises that support this notion include Edinburgh’s Social Bite and Cyrenians. They have worked together to build a Social Village in the city, staffed by skilled social support workers who can provide one to one support to help residents achieve their goals.
Similarly, Community Campus ’87 is working hard to combat youth homelessness in Teeside by providing vulnerable young people with a place to live, as well as a personal support worker to help them break the cycle of homelessness, while Brighter Futures is providing employment skills and training to unhoused individuals in the Staffordshire community.
So it’s clear that some of the UK’s top charities and social enterprises support the idea of social housing, and for very good reason. This kind of housing is incredibly important, as it addresses two major problems that the UK is facing. Firstly, the trained staff present in social housing help to tackle a huge issue that exists in tandem to homelessness: mental illness. Around 80% of unhoused people have some kind of untreated mental illness which may act as a barrier to their successful reintroduction into society. With a dedicated staff, this barrier may be overcome, and it may well help the residents escape homelessness for good; it is certainly vastly superior to providing accommodation with no such support offered.
This support will come in a variety of ways: during their time living in social housing, residents can engage in social activities, including shared exercise and cooking lessons, which can reduce isolation and improve mental health. They will also be taught new life skills that will benefit them when they move on, and staff will help all residents find permanent housing, and after their stay will provide ongoing support in order to ensure that they will be successful in their new home.
Secondly, social housing promises to provide quality housing for low-income families and individuals. In the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, we are in desperate need of safe and secure housing for all, not just those who can afford it. Social housing can provide this, because the charities and social enterprises who are dedicated to its implication won’t cut corners in the interest of profits.
This will be a much-needed change to the current private rental sector, which is experiencing sky high rent prices for low quality, even dangerous accommodations. Shelter predicts that this sector is currently reaching a breaking point, and that in the coming years, we will need more than ever a way to support low income individuals to escape not only homelessness, but also being trapped in extortionate and unsafe rental properties.
So, while social housing may not fight the causes of homelessness in the way we inevitably must, it provides a much-needed balm to the wounds homelessness causes. A country cannot be deemed successful or worthy if it fails to provide the most basic of human needs, housing, to every single citizen, and if the UK government refuses to shoulder this responsibility, then we must all do everything we can to support the charities and social enterprises that will.
Calum Rosie is a writer and correspondent for Immigrationnews.co.uk, a website dedicated to shedding light on immigration injustices and social issues.