The Museum of Homelessness is now managing the Dying Homeless Project, originally set up by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Over 18 months (Oct 2017–March 2019) the bureau logged the stories of the 800 men and women who died while sleeping rough or living in temporary accommodation. From now on the Museum of Homelessness wants you to contact them when you hear of a death.
Homeless people in England are dying at a rate of more than nine times higher in economically depressed areas than in the least deprived locations. The BBC has published analysis of recorded deaths among homeless people from 2013 to 2017 and when weighted against population, Blackburn with Darwen, in Lancashire, had the highest rate of deaths, with 10.2 per 100,000 of the population. A quarter of homeless deaths in the past five years took place in areas officially ranked among the 10% most deprived in the country.
Chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, Polly Neate, said: “People dying homeless is a direct consequence of a broken housing system.”
Video footage posted by a member of the public on Facebook in late February showed Southern Rail workers pouring water on a homeless man at Sutton station. Angie Doll, the passenger services director for Southern Railway, confirmed the guilty pair had been suspended and put under investigation. British Transport Police has opened an investigation and is treating the incident as common assault.
Art and graft
Having stayed in Port Talbot’s YMCA hostel while he was homeless, Steven Roberts held his first show as an artist there. Roberts struggled growing up with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and was kicked out of his family home when he was 19. For almost a year he stayed at the YMCA hostel, where he had “a lot of time to sit and think,” he told WalesOnline. He also had time to focus on art, and, with the assistance of Caer Las advocacy charity, Roberts applied for uni. Now 22, Roberts is studying art at Cardiff Metropolitan University.
A year after the Windrush scandal broke, many victims of the government’s hostile environment remain homeless. Windrush refers to the generation of Caribbean people who came to the UK after World War Two. The scandal involved them, and many of their family, being deported, sacked and made homeless, despite being British citizens. The government was forced to apologise over its conduct; however, many people affected by the Home Office’s actions remain in dire straits. Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said the Home Office lacked “any sense of urgency”.
Premier League club Crystal Palace FC’s homeless shelter scheme, which saw the club’s stadium opened to a number of local homeless people, was such a success last winter that the club plans on keeping the scheme running for years to come. Pavement 119 reported the south London club had, in collaboration with Croydon council, set up one of the ground’s lounges for people sleeping rough to use in the event of extreme weather. Now the scheme has been used on nine occasions, with the council praising the “promising start”.
When 16-year-old Charlotte Howard of Hastings read a “heartbreaking” note on a bus stop written by Anthony Johnson, she decided to act. Johnson had been homeless for nine years and his note said that he was looking for work “to make life worth living”. Charlotte sent out an appeal on social media raising more than £1,000. It also led to Anthony being offered a job as a handyman and use of a caravan, which, once decorated, would provide him with shelter. When contacted by BBC Sussex over the story, Charlotte explained that “everybody deserves a home.”
Late April saw homeless charity Emmaus Burnley raise funds by hosting a curry evening in the town’s award-winning Usha restaurant. According to the Burnley Express, those attending the fundraiser were treated to an array of dishes for £16, and learnt more about the work of Emmaus Burnley. Half of every £16 ticket purchase went to Emmaus to help pay for the social enterprise they run in Burnley and neighbouring Accrington.
Landlords in London are being paid incentives by hard-up councils of up to £8,300 to house homeless people, according to the Guardian. These payments were made more than 5,700 times in 2018, and do not replace actual rent. Housing campaigner Nye Jones said, “private landlords are using a council’s desperation to pocket huge cash incentives just to rent their property out.” For example, Barnet council in north London paid out £1.5m to landlords last year, despite its overall budget being slashed by £23m.
The council has built just 20 council houses over the past five years.
What housing crisis?
For the second year in a row, the number of vacant houses across England has increased. There were 216,186 long-term vacant homes in England between October 2017 and October 2018, representing a 5.3% increase on the previous year. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government defines long-term as a house empty for at least six months. About £53.6bn of property is left vacant, says Project Etopia, a modular home and school builder. Their chief executive, Joseph Daniels, said empty homes were “compounding the housing market’s deeply entrenched problems”.
Is this progress?
A year ago the Pavement welcomed the government’s new Homeless Reduction Act (HRA) with both scepticism and hope. Councils were now legally bound to help and support homeless people (good!). But they weren’t offered the necessary funding to make it workable (bad!). Fast-forward a year and a Local Government Association report has further highlighted the delicate balancing act of hope and despair. A sharp increase in people approaching councils for support and shelter has been registered. Before HRA became law, councils would only be obliged to offer temporary accommodation to people in priority need (pregnant, minor, etc.), so a spike was inevitable. However, the report, based on a survey answered by 150 councils, revealed 90% of councils were “seriously concerned” they could not meet the demand for affordable housing. Furthermore, HRA has had little impact on population trends of homeless people.
In a move hailed as groundbreaking for tenants’ rights by Shelter, the government is consulting on abolishing Section 21 evictions writes the Guardian. Announcing the plans, PM Theresa May called it “wrong” that “millions of responsible tenants could still be uprooted by their landlord with little notice and often little justification.”
The dreaded Section 21 eviction – one of the leading causes of family homelessness – looks set to be a thing of the past now the government has announced plans to scrap no-fault evictions. At the moment, landlords can get rid of tenants with as little as eight weeks’ notice after a fixed-term contract ends.
Ready in three
Students in San Diego broke the Guinness World Record for most sandwiches made in three minutes back in April. NBC San Diego reported that the students, from the San Diego Jewish Academy, made 868 sandwiches, all of which were donated to the Alpha Project, an organisation that helps homeless people in San Diego. The Alpha Project distributed the sandwiches among people living in their homeless shelter, as well as local people sleeping rough. The previous record was 490 sandwiches.