In the 1950s, 60s and 70s the only people you saw living rough outside of central London were old ‘tramps’. Then, in 1984, Thatcher’s government reduced Jobseekers Allowance and Social Security benefits for 16-25 year olds and suddenly every city had young people on the streets because they couldn’t afford to ‘top-up’ their rents. When Labour came to power they didn’t reverse that. In many towns and cities voluntary organisations do a lot to help but they can’t provide much in the way of accommodation. Most have only limited space for some who are stable enough to prepare for permanent housing. But nowadays there is little short-term accommodation for the homeless since the old system of ‘the spike’ hostels for vagrants ended. It is true that some homeless people have become habituated to this life-style, but they’re a minority. Most end up on the street because it can now take the DWP up to 6 weeks to process a new claim or when someone changes locality, despite computerisation of their systems. If the Tories’ plan to stop all Housing Benefit for under-21s goes ahead it will put thousands more on the streets. Those of us lucky enough to have a roof over our heads have no reason to be afraid of rough sleepers. If you are threatened by someone physically or verbally, tell the police. Otherwise have some sympathy at least. It’s tough way to survive, especially in winter, while local authorities try to bring in PSPOs (Public Space Protection Orders) to chase the homeless out of sight with the threat of fines (which they obviously can’t pay) and confiscation of property, ie what little shelter they can carry. At the same time at least one privately-run prison has been discharging people with a tent and sleeping bag because there are no probation hostels or other accommodation available! This situation and those attitudes which ‘blame the victim for the crime’ of being on the streets is intolerable. There are no easy solutions without a general change of attitude. Start by giving your MP and local councillor a hard time for a change.
RA 3.10.16, updated 2.1.17