This is no laughing matter. Homelessness in London has increased over the years, an acute rise since PM David Cameron took office. Homelessness is a harsh reality and people do what they must to survive. Being one of the richest countries in the world, the sheer scale of rough sleepers is shocking. A sign that the shameful Tory policies have abandoned those who are most in need. Services are stretched and the housing crisis is overgrown. There are young people, couples and older adults suffering from the indiscriminate consequences of being homeless. The figures show an increase over the years, in fact homelessness has doubled since 2010. There isn’t enough effort from the government to get people back on their feet. The crisis of homelessness requires more attention and more money for preventative measures. Instead of handing out fines to those sleeping rough and begging, local authorities should spend more time addressing the wider issues within the community.
The current government is letting down hard working families, allowing some to slip and fall further and further out of the clutches of the benefits safety net. The rough cold streets force the homeless into drugs, begging and in some instances prostitution. The busy bustling London behaves indifferent and fail to realise that people don’t choose to be homeless. Charities and Projects often struggle to change the perceptions of homelessness, let alone find adequate funding to continue the good work. The homeless are treated as invisible and in some instances like criminals. I hear first-hand, stories of how the homeless are kicked and pissed on, harassed and abused by drunken teens and adults who ought to know better.
The grim reality is frustrating, it’s a painful shock to the system meeting those who are living on the streets. Some are relatively new to the destitute and life-threatening situation of being homeless, I learned also that others have lived on the streets in excess of twenty years. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Crisis as a volunteer over the Christmas periods. It’s one of the few organisations in the country which help those who are marginalised, vulnerable and sleeping rough on the streets. The charity is a life-line which offers support and compassion for those who walk through their doors, accommodating over 4,000 guests across major UK cities. Typically, some of the guests have suffered from cocaine, heroin and alcohol abuse. Some are exploited and abused while living on the streets. Crisis offers shelter and a warm place albeit temporary but vital. Understandably, speaking to seasoned roughly sleepers, some have their guards up as they express the perils of making friends in such an environment. Finding out how they survive was an eye opening experience, most born and raised in the city others are immigrants. The fact that Crisis and the Trussell Trust exist is small relief for those trapped in the traumatic cycle of homelessness.
The purpose of the benefits system is to help those most vulnerable. However, the Department for Work and Pensions falls short and repeatedly misleads the public. You wouldn’t know the absolute importance of an address until you are homeless and trying to find a job. It is all too common now, everyone is affected by the stark prospect and reality of being homeless. The green badges and all the volunteers at Crisis offer the gift of a chance to take the first step out of homelessness. I met a family man who was evicted then lost his job soon after and was met with next to no support before turning to alcohol, thus was the start of the downward spiral. His story not dissimilar to the one divulged by the army veteran, he was let down by the government. Also speaking to a young woman who was recently released from prison, she had nowhere secure to return to and soon after found herself on the cold streets of London. Nearly half of all those who are first-time homeless are under the age of 21.
Every individual I met was going through extreme hardship. We are living in a backward city, one which looks after the wealthy and neglects the poor and most vulnerable. The current policies are responsible for the hashtag generation homeless. It is difficult to grapple with the fact that it is London, not a third world country. There are soup kitchens that cater to nearly 200 people every other night. The Trussell Trust provides a minimum of three days’ emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis in the UK. People are finding ways to survive, despite being held hostage by the claws of homelessness. The homeless do not need pitiful patronising advise. Those who find themselves in the unfortunate predicament require foremost, debt counselling and welfare advice. A few of the many reasons for homelessness are; rent arrears, domestic violence, unemployment, relationship breakdown and evictions. Last year alone nearly 8,000 people slept rough in London. The term ‘hidden homeless’ has been examined through television documentaries in a bid to raise awareness. Without a doubt, No.10 should do more to tackle the homeless crises on our doorstep. The Tories ought to revise their policies, STOP further cuts and sort out the universal credit mess instead of fabricating quotes. Cameron must take real action, no more excuses. How will the next mayor tackle the nightmare of homelessness encroaching our society? That Is the question on many minds as the election date draws closer. An urgent change to our current policies and laws would be a good start. We can empathise and sympathise but realistically that will not change the uncertainty of homelessness.