Homelessness in the UK is an issue that has been left without enough attention or time being devoted to significantly combat it, which is why on February 14th a homeless man who was seen frequently at the tube entrance of Westminster, died near the Houses of Parliament. This is not the first time that a homeless person has died, sleeping out in the cold overnight and I wish I could say that this death would be the last for those who are homeless. However, the facts remain that the lack of action taken by the government has contributed to a sharp rise in the number of homeless sleepers in the UK.
Official figures show that homelessness has increased over the last seven years consecutively with around 4,751 people who had slept outside overnight in 2017, according to a report outlined in the Guardian. This is a worrying figure and one that is enough to show that action needs to be taken now to provide more affordable housing options, initiatives and shelters for those who are homeless.
As I walk the streets of Glasgow city, I have often passed those who are sleeping rough on the street or in a corner road and it really pains me to see their plight. As they look upon me lost and often too cold to move, I almost feel the shame of the fact that we live in a country which could do so much more to prevent those who are left without a home. These people are not just a statistic, they could be a grandfather, someone’s son, a wife or daughter. They may have once lived a life that was comfortable and circumstances may have propelled them into becoming homeless. We never really know the real story behind what a homeless person went through to get to where they are, but it is about time that we find out so that we can pave the way for change.
Heartbreakingly, there has been a council in the UK that has installed ‘anti-homeless’ metal bars on benches to stop homeless people from sleeping on a bench. This is not only inhumane, heartless and shameful but also shows the lack of empathy towards people who are most vulnerable and are in need of help. Instead of making things easier for those who are homeless, instead of providing them with dignity and respect, they are shunned and looked down upon by councils who, in fact, should be providing significant measures to help them.
What some people fail to understand is that anyone can become homeless at any point of their life, if they were to lose their means of earning, if they were to fall sick or if they could not afford to pay the rent. Just because someone is homeless does not make them unworthy of respect or gives anyone the right to treat them with hostility.
Frustratingly, part of the problem in tackling homelessness in the UK is that many vulnerable people are reported to be ‘trapped’ by UK law under the Localism Act 2011. This act gave councils the right to restrict access to social housing leaving vulnerable people in a downward cycle whereby they could not be moved out of emergency housing or have access to apply to social accommodation.
Many of those who sleep overnight on the streets are in need of medical attention and healthcare due to the effects of battling through the cold nights. The government must take immediate action to provide more support for those who are homeless and those who are at risk. If not, the number of rough sleepers will increase and the British community will have to live with a heavy heart of sadness in hearing about those who passed away due to sleeping rough without intervention from the government through new policies and initiatives that could pave the way to save and rebuild people’s lives.