Having spent the majority of my adult life in Leeds, I've seen the city grow into an incredible place over the last eight years. I've seen Universities expand and change; I've spent years detouring from my preferred route as I patiently awaited Trinity Shopping Centre to be built; I've watched every step of the Victoria Gate and John Lewis flagship store construction over the last year on my walk to and from work. These are all great changes for the city - driving new economy for Leeds and cementing itself as the true Northern Powerhouse it is. However, I've also seen a huge rise in the amount of homeless throughout the city.
I used to walk around the city blissful in my ignorance of the horror many were facing on a day-to-day basis. But now, as the homeless scatter many parts of the city centre, I am forced to consider their suffering and what Leeds is doing to combat such an obvious issue.
According to government figures, the homelessness situation in Leeds isn't as bad as the situation in cities like Bristol and Birmingham, but the figures are still high. In the city of Leeds, between 2014 and 2015, 378 recorded themselves as homeless; when looking at cities of similar sizes, like Newcastle for example, their 161 recorded homeless seems like a drop in the water. What is Newcastle doing that Leeds isn't?
Perhaps it's the attitude those in Leeds have towards the homeless. Recently, business owner Dion Smith was told he wasn't allowed to offer those less fortunate with free tea, coffee and bread. In fact, he was actively discouraged from doing so by a group that Leeds Business Improvement District (BID) call 'Street Wardens', who told Mr. Smith that his offerings were "attracting intimidating and undesirable people to the area". This is unbelievable demeaning and short sighted and, to me, sounds like the 'seen but not heard' idiom, except they would prefer them neither seen nor heard.
One of the most interesting things I stumbled upon when browsing the internet on the subject was the matter of empty homes. I've heard of this happening in London; wealthy people from different countries investing in real estate in the Capital, only to leave them empty and in doing so, drive up the cost of living for those who are left. It's nothing new. But what I wasn't aware of was the sheer amount of empty homes across the whole country, not just London.
Through more digging on the subject of empty houses versus homeless people in the UK I saw that London had, between 2014 and 2015, 56,715 recorded empty homes and 17,530 homeless. Birmingham had 9,523 empty homes vs 3,140 homeless. And Leeds? Well Leeds' stats don't look good at all; 10,724 empty homes yet only 378 homeless. I haven't gone so far as to look at the type of properties left empty and why, but something doesn't add up.
It seems as though the growing frustration with government cuts to housing benefit and welfare reform, paired with the huge lack of affordable housing across the UK, has contributed hugely to the 26% rise in homelessness in the last four years. Looking at the recent news on the matter, it looks as if it's going to get much worse before it gets even the slightest bit better.