Hidden Homelessness: The Most Important Social Problem Facing Britain Today

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Seeing homelessness is not uncommon in big cities. With 3,569 people sleeping rough in England in 2015, figures huddled in doorways of steel skyscrapers and across the pavements of our high streets have unfortunately become part of our urban environment (Crisis, 2015). Yet, while these visible signs of homelessness may seem worryingly prevalent, the reality is that the homelessness we see is just the tip of the iceberg.

The hidden homeless are those who exist out of sight in hostels, bedsits, squats and on friend’s sofas. It is also those who live on the margins of homelessness, precariously housed in insecure, overcrowded and filthy conditions, facing the ever present threat of eviction (Crisis, 2016). Forced to live transient lives on the fringes of our society, these individuals are not only hidden from sight, but from government statistics. Many young, single homeless people are not entitled to housing within the terms of the homelessness legislation and do not feature in the the government’s headline homeless statistics.  Consequently, they are not a political priority. Yet, a crisis report estimated that almost 380,000 individuals – a population larger than that of Newcastle – are confronted with hidden homelessness, with current trends indicating this figure could reach the 1 million mark by 2020 (2004). This invisible city of vulnerable individuals must be recognised as one of the major social problems facing Britain today.

Many of us may be closer to hidden homelessness than we realise, with young, single people particularly at risk. Take Daisy, for example, a graduate who became homeless when her mother’s single parent income could simply not stretch to match a recent increase in rental prices after her current landlord decided to sell their home: “in between my final exams and graduation…we had to leave our home, our security and our identity” (Vice, 2016). This is not an unusual story. A survey by London Metropolitan University last month found that homelessness among students is a hidden problem that many are too ashamed to admit. Sleeping on floors and sofas, sharing with friends or in local council emergency accommodation, the survey revealed that 27 students at just one of LMU’s 10 schools were found to be homeless (The Guardian, 2016). With 8 million of us being just one payday away from not being able to afford or rent or mortgage, homelessness is no longer an issue affecting a small minority of us, but simply one rent-rise or job-loss away for the majority (Vice, 2016).

Skyrocketing house prices and continued neglect of the issues facing tenants in the private rental sector can both be attributed to the growing prevalence of homelessness in Britain. A report by Shelter (2014) revealed that average earners would need a £29,000 pay rise just to keep us with spiralling house prices. Government policies focused on homeownership such as Help-to-buy scheme are irrelevant for low-income renters, and the inevitable drop in homeownership that this has caused has not been met with better rights for tenants, either. The ending of assured shorthold tenancies has meant that landlords can increase rent rates for existing tenants, and was cited as the most common cause of homelessness this year (Huffington Post, 2016). With 1.7 million people now waiting for social housing, and alternative rental housing option catering to low-income families is desperately needed.

While the government must acknowledge the true extent of homelessness in the UK and prioritize the needs of low-income renters, businesses and individuals also have a role to play. Chototel, by catering to low-income earners whose needs are not being met by the existing housing market, can provide a clean, comfortable alternative to the dire options currently facing the hidden homeless. Hostels, bedsits and emergency accommodation are often filthy and badly maintained with one individual describing her temporary accommodation as “a dump … The quilt is just covered, soaked in blood. You have never seen anything like it. No heating. It is just so disgusting” (The Guardian, 2016). Chototel’s pay per night model can provide a dignified housing solution to those individuals and families faced with the sudden prospect of homelessness, preventing a downward spiral into problems related to homelessness, such as unemployment and mental health issues. We are facing a growing crisis of homelessness and we must all be challenged to do more.

By Imogen Farhan

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