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The Social Problem Of Homelessness

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Published: Thu, 18 May 2017

In this essay, the social problems I have chosen to write about is Homelessness. I will also be exploring different perspective of Homelessness and the policy responses and the impact it have on the society. The groups I will focus my discussion on are young people and rough sleepers as the evidence indicates that young homeless people experience rough sleeping before securing temporary accommodation.

There are wide ranges of definition Homelessness and it varies from country to country or among different institutions in the same country. According to |Liddiard, M (2001:119) the immediate sense of the term as regularly employed by the mass media and politicians, simplistically equates homelessness with rooflessness or literally sleeping rough on the street. This is can be a straightforward and easy to understand definition but this does not reflect the true scope of the problem so a broader definition of homeless peoples include those lacking permanent residence and living in a range of unsatisfactory housing conditions. They can include those living in temporary hostels, bed and breakfast, night shelters and squatters. However, the legal definition of someone homeless is if they do not have a legal right to occupy accommodation or if their accommodation is unsuitable to live in. They also include families and peoples who do not sleep rough and some are accommodated by friends and family on temporary basis. So from the above definition the social construction of homelessness are not the small amounts of individual that sleep on the street, looking dirty and smells of alcohol and drugs but comprises of all individual who do not have a permanent decent place of accommodation or without a regular dwelling and are on a waiting list or takes housing benefit and in temporary accommodations. (Giddens 2007)

The cause of homelessness varies as many are of the view that homelessness is a result of personal failings and consider if the economy is going on well, there is no excuse to be homeless. Shelter (2007) is of the view that homelessness is cause by a complex interplay between a person’s individual circumstances and adverse structural factors outside their direct control. Among the individual factors include social exclusion, thus when a person lack of qualification because they did not have access to good education and decent job. Ones misuse of drugs and alcohol which result in lack of personal control, lack of social support and debts especially mortgage or rent arrears. Having mental health problems and getting involved in crime at an early age also contribute to homelessness. Family breakdown and unresolved disputes are a major factor of homelessness as a result of divorce and separation and a greater number of men and women are affected. People from institutional background like having been in care, the armed forces are likely to be affected. Ex-offenders who come out of prison and lose their friend and families can become homeless and the majority from ethnic minority or ex-asylum seekers who have the right to stay but have no accommodation. Structural causes of homelessness are mostly social and economical in nature often outside the control of individual or family concerned. These may include poverty, lack of affordable housing, unemployment and the structure and administration of housing benefit.

According to the shelter (2007) the number of households found to be homeless by local authorities increased 31percent between 1997/98 and 2003/2004. Historically, homelessness had low publicity until the 1966 when the BBC screened Ken Loach’s film about homelessness Cathy Come Home. This was watch by 12million people and the film alerted the public, the media and the government to the scale of the housing crises and then Shelter was formed. Another policy response was the 1977 Housing (Homeless Persons) Acts was the first measure to place responsibilities on local authorities to rehouse homeless families and individuals permanently. (Liddiard, M .2001) The 1977 legislation had Priority Need which included women with children or pregnant, vulnerable due to age, mental illness, disability, and loss of home by natural disasters. This did not cater for everyone who was homeless and the criteria by which local authorities accepted someone as homeless was complex and restricted. Hence the 1996 section 177 amended to include domestic violence as a priority need but strict eligibility remains (Hill, M: 2000).

Young people were not covered under the existing legislation and the number of young homeless increased. Existing data on youth homelessness has significant limitation; in particular it is only possible to count young people who are in contact with services. According to ONS (2007) it can be estimated that at least 75,000 young people experienced homelessness in the UK in 2006-07. This included 43,075 aged 16-24 of which 8,337 were 16 -17 year old who were accepted as statutorily homeless in the UK and at least 31,000 non-statutorily homeless young people using supporting people services during 2006-2007. The Homelessness Act (2002) changes significantly the way in which homeless in England and Wales is tackled. The priority need categories was extended to includes 16/17 years rather those who social services are responsible for accommodating, care- leavers under the age of 21 who were looked after by social services when they were 16/17 and ex- prisoners, former soldiers and young people leaving care. This act also introduces greater flexibility with regards to social housing allocation giving more people the right to be considered for a council or housing home.

The local authorities had a statutory duty to care for all the homeless people but no extra resources were added. This had a great impact on the number of homeless people who were able to relocate permanently at a given time and especially those under priority need.

Young people experiencing disruption or trauma during childhood who may be from socio-economic background are at increased risk of homelessness. The main trigger for youth homelessness is relationship breakdown usually parents or step-parent. Among the impact of homeless on young people is poor health as they cannot take care of their health being. They lack basic food and shelter to help them grow to become healthy adults and they may suffer from depression. Homelessness can lead to increased levels of non- participation in formal education, training or employment. At times leaving school early without a qualification and a decent job may lead some young people into the misuse of drugs and some have mental health problems.

Another homeless group of concern is the rough sleepers who were in temporary accommodation but some choose to roam the streets, sleeping rough free from the constraints of property and possessions. But a large majority has no such wish at all but they have been pushed over the edge into homelessness by factors beyond their control. Once they find themselves without a permanent dwelling, their lives sometimes deteriorate into a spiral of hardship and deprivation. ( Giddens 2009:503)

The Homelessness Act 2002 extended the definition of the priority need to include new groups of vulnerable people, and requirement that all homeless people receive advice and assistance. In addition, Local Authorities are requires to periodically develop homeless strategies, including an assessment of levels of homelessness and conduct an audit of those sleeping rough. In 1998 there were around 1,850 people sleeping rough on the street of England on any one night. This follows on from the government drive to reduce rough sleeping by two-thirds in 2002. The Rough Sleeper Unit was set up in April 1999 to take the lead on delivering this challenging new target and help thousands of people to escape fro good from the humiliation and misery of life under a blanket in a shop doorway. One of the key principal of the strategy was to understand the cause of rough sleeping, why people end up on the street and what could be done to stop this from happing in the future. The strategy also place the emphasis on encouraging rough sleepers to become active members of the community, to build self esteem and bring on talent as well as helping the individual to become prepared for the life away from the street. Positive result soon follows as reductions in rough sleeping were achieves around the country in December 2001 the target set by the government was met ahead of time.

The target was met amid the controversy about how rough sleepers were counted and concern about the emphasis on street homelessness, which campaigners claimed was only tip of the homelessness iceberg. According to BBC New Magazine, housing minister Grant Shapps believes that the government figures on the count of rough sleeper is low and the system of counting is flawed. He argues that, under previous government’s system, councils with fewer than 10 rough sleepers were not obliged to count them, and that vagrants sitting up in sleeping bags were not counted as homeless. After Mr. Shapps insisted that councils provide estimates, the England wide figure rose to 1,247, this comprised 440 from 70 authorities that count and 807 from 256 authorities that provided estimates. Despite government investment in hostels to accommodate rough sleepers many are on waiting list as resources and financing is limited. Overcrowding, lack of bed space and sharing rooms or limited facilities with others are also identified as a problem especially if you have a partner or a dog, your choices narrow considerably. Although the quality of hostels has improved considerably, hostels are often considered unsafe. Over 57 percent of those who stayed in hostels mentioned problems with other residents, including drug and alcohol use, violence, theft, bulling, noise and arguments. And some are of the view that it is not a place to go if you want to stay clean of drugs. People are under the same legislation and the local authorities are unable to permanently house all in priority need.

In addition to the above, there are certain groups who are excluded from hostels, such as people from the EU and asylum seekers from non-EU countries who are homeless and destitute in the street of the UK. Their entitlement to benefits is restricted until they have lived and worked and paid into the UK system through national Insurance and tax for one year continuously. Such laws bring about social exclusion as street homeless people have reduced access to health care and dental services. They face discrimination and general rejection from other people and may have increased risk to suffering from violence and abuse. The impact of rough sleeping is limited access to education, not being seen as suitable for employment and loss of usual relationship with the mainstream. Most of all, living on the streets is dangerous as rough sleepers die young with the average life expectancy at 42.

Inequalities among the population still remain one factor of homelessness. Privatisation and residualisation of the council housing meant that fewer houses are available for council tenant. This imposes greater long term risks on the former council tenants while also generating considerable costs for the taxpayer. The process also excludes the many tenants who either reject transfer or are not given the choice and therefore exacerbates inequalities. There are 1.4 million unfit home in England as the majority of homeowners are in the private sector. The increase of housing association rents and increases in house prices means most people cannot afford a decent accommodation. Low income families are the most affected as 4 million people receiving housing benefit. ( Quilgars D. et al 2008)

In conclusion, the problem of homelessness has been tackled by the governments over the years through policies and legislation. However, the problem require long term policy solutions such as changes in the benefit system, the building of more affordable homes and ensuring that a wider cross- section of society benefits from the fruits of economic growth. For many people, there is no single event that results in sudden homelessness; instead homelessness is due to a number of unresolved problems outlined above building up over time. The achievement of one government policy on rough sleepers indicates much could be done to reduce the impact of homelessness as the number still rises. Ministers are now focusing on the prevention of rough sleeper and youth homelessness through a new government homelessness strategy.


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