THE BLOG

Spare a Thought for the Homeless this New Year - It Could Be You

08/01/2014 14:50 GMT | Updated 09/03/2014 09:59 GMT

At the start of this New Year, thousands of people will be sleeping rough on the streets of Britain.

There are many reasons why. Debt, benefit cutbacks and soaring rents are just some of the issues behind the statistics.

George Osborne may have given the country cautious optimism that recovery is on its way, but homelessness is the true barometer of whether we are in recovery or not.

Figures show that homelessness has increased for three consecutive years now. A total of 185,000 people in England are affected, according to a study by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

As ever, charities and social care organisations have been doing all they can to offer people support, a bed or a hot dinner over the festive season.

This is a tough job though when the numbers needing help are rising yet provision is going down as local authorities cut the amount of emergency accommodation.

Turning Point's Rough Sleepers Service in Sheffield has seen a hundred per cent increase in the second quarter of this year compared to the same period last year in enquiries from people with nowhere to sleep that night. And the profile of those in need is changing. We are seeing more and more people who have always worked and not claimed benefits ending up homeless.

The desperate lack of affordable housing is partly to blame and an issue which is rising up the political agenda as we head towards the next election.

It's a massive concern for first-time voters. The chance of renting- let alone buying- a home is slim unless you have the 'bank of mum and dad' to support you.

In major cities we're effectively taking away the ability to buy and rent particularly in London where the number of people sleeping rough has almost doubled since 2008.

The idea was that landlords would drop their rates but instead they've put them up, so the message is be a private sector landlord if you want to invest and make money.

The Government has introduced the NewBuy scheme where people can get a mortgage with just a five per cent deposit.

But this isn't going to help when the average house price in London has risen to £500,000.

The benefits cap is also causing widespread disruption of lives, and there are more changes ahead which will impact on the homeless figures such as the 'bedroom tax.'

So what are the solutions to help those already on the streets? For a start, we need to provide permanent rotating emergency shelters.

Support must be targeted and provided by volunteers who are properly trained, like a fourth emergency service.

We should reduce street homelessness to hours, not days, offer psycho-social support and discourage people from giving money to those living on the streets.

There will be many people who read the headline on this article and think 'it's not my problem.'

Yet the majority of us are only a paycheck away from not being able to pay the mortgage.

The journey from home-ownership to rough sleeping can be a short and brutal one.

So spare a thought for the homeless this 2014. It could be you.