Cold comfort for the homeless this Christmas amid economic crisis Adam Bolton | UK news | Daily News Byte

Cold comfort for the homeless this Christmas amid economic crisis  Adam Bolton |  UK news

 | Daily News Byte

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There are three ‘C’s of acute concern about homelessness this winter: Christmas, the cold and the cost of living.

As many people look forward to the comforts of the annual Yuletide festival, they are also troubled by the memory of those who do not have the warmth to welcome them. This is a good time to stimulate the charitable instincts of the “haves”. Totemic charity Crisis, which provides year-round employment, education, housing and wellbeing services to people experiencing homelessness in the UK, began as a crisis at Christmas.

Week-long sub-zero temperatures and snow chills across the country have brought to the fore the importance of proper shelter for everyone, while Russia’s war on Ukraine has made it more difficult for many to keep warm as energy and heating costs soar. .

Expensive fuel is only one factor in rapidly rising inflation and prices. Some people on low incomes and benefits face a choice between spending less money on heat or food for themselves and their families. There is a third factor competing for their strained resources – the cost of keeping a roof over their heads.

Rising costs have exacerbated the threat of homelessness among the population. According to official figures, 20,000 of those facing eviction in the first half of this year are full-time working households.

There are many types of homelessness. Most visible to the general public are the rough sleepers, once infamously referred to by a Conservative minister and baronet as “the people you step on when you come out of the opera”. But as needy as these people are, they don’t represent the entire homeless problem because unfortunately it goes much deeper than that.

Volunteers working for Tooting Community Kitchen donate food to a homeless man in Tooting, south London, Britain, November 14, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic. Picture taken on November 14, 2020.  REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
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Volunteers donate food to a homeless man

Statistically, many more people and families are off the streets but have no place of their own – in sheds, vans, B&Bs, hostels, shelters, on friends’ sofas and in temporary accommodation, usually paid for by local councils.

The total crisis was estimated to be about 227,000 households that could be classified as homeless. It is believed that on any given night around 3,000 people sleep on the streets of Great Britain. CHAIN, the joint homelessness and information network, reported a total of 8,239 in London during the 12 months to 2022.

During the Covid pandemic, the “Everybody In” scheme launched by the government mostly took rough sleepers off the streets. During the first lockdown, 33,000 people were given beds in B&Bs, hotels and student hostels, which were not in common use at the time.

Louise Casey, now a baroness, who masterminded “Everyone In” believes it shows that rough sleeping can be ended if the resources are there. “We just got on with it,” she commented on taking action and protested against infringing on the freedom of rough sleepers by rounding them up, ignoring the debate between those against spending money on “The Faceless” and right-wing liberals.

Those most associated with homelessness can be surprisingly restrictive about rough sleepers. John Bird himself experienced homelessness. He co-founded The Big Issue and took his campaign to the House of Lords, now as a peer himself.

He told me that rough sleepers should indeed be rounded up compulsorily by the authorities, provided there are enough facilities and trained staff to help them. Unlike most people in the homeless category, habitual rough sleepers often suffer from serious mental health and addiction issues.

rough sleep
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Rough sleeping in extremely cold climates can cause serious health problems

If they cannot find help or help themselves, young people who find themselves homeless because family or friends are no longer able or willing to accommodate them may become habitual rough sleepers over time. StreetLife, a branch of the Centrepoint charity, helps at least eight young people in London every night.

Potentially 122,000 people between 16 and 24 could be at risk of homelessness. 64% of them are offered help but are not always satisfied with it. A reduced rate of universal credit for under-25s can make it harder to pay for housing.

Rates of rough sleeping have increased since the pandemic, not dramatically, but the trend is upward. The number of people on the streets now is the same as in 2010. London Mayor Sadiq Khan believes the post-lockdown situation “threatens to reverse hard-won games”.

This month SWEP, the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol, has been activated to open emergency hostels. Mayor Khan has also tweeted a reminder @Tell_Streetlink, designed to put the homeless in touch with resources. He has urged concerned citizens to use it to identify anyone who needs help.

I was in the West End last Sunday when the snow storm hit and I didn’t see people sleeping rough in the usual places.

No one can shelter from the cost of life crisis. It hits those who try to help the homeless. 600 staff working for the charity Shelter are currently taking industrial action against a pay rise offer of less than 3%.

Lord Bird has launched an appeal as this winter has seen a seven-fold increase in the number of Big Issue vendors needing serious fuel and food assistance. Big issue sellers are not beggars. They are working through the magazine’s support network to solve their problems.

“This winter is the worst in 45 years, with nearly 7 million people living in fuel poverty, rising rents and skyrocketing food prices, and now our vendors are dealing with bitter cold and snow. That’s why we’re here to help people,” says Bird. Saying. Shoppers give back this Christmas by buying a subscription to the magazine or contributing to the foundation.”

The problem of homelessness has many facets and no government ignores them. Still the pressures are likely to worsen in the near future. For example, in Prime Minister’s Questions this week Rishi Sunak asked for increased protections against no-fault evictions, introduced during the pandemic, during this holiday period.

A bill to expand tenants’ rights is being passed in Parliament, but is not yet law. On the other hand, with Ukrainian refugees facing an increase in homelessness, largely because some hosts can no longer afford to house them, the government is increasing the grant paid to householders to £500.

There’s not much we can do directly about the cold this Christmas season or the rising cost of living. Homelessness is one issue however where direct action makes a difference. ‘Tis the season of giving.



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