Friday, 23 March 2018

Homelessness, a Tory Minsiter who doesn't get it but who actually does?

(This is one of those Facebook posts that got too long and had to become a blog post instead!)

Last week we all heard that the new minister for homelessness Heather Wheeler didn't acknowledge Conservative cuts as the reason for homelessness but, when grilled a little further, admitted that she didn't know why homelessness was on the rise (this was all shortly after saying that she'll quit this role is she doesn't solve the issue within a few years).

Anyway, it seems that Heather Wheeler has now had the opportunity to learn something about homelessness which is obviously good (even if we'd be naïve to think that she's likely to change her mind about much as a result) as seen in this article:

But at this point after reading the article there is something that overshadows all that. I am now on a personal mission to stop people talking absolute nonsense about homelessness numbers:

This article says:

"Latest statistics show 4,751 people slept outside overnight in 2017".

When people who are supposed to know and understand homelessness can't get their head around simple statistics we've got just as big or bigger issue than the Tory Minister who has obviously taken on a role that she isn't prepared for.

This is a complete misunderstanding of the figures! On one night during 2017 that number is how many people we all managed to count in our annual street count (in England alone, not for the UK as a whole).

It may be close to accurate for the single night it was taken on (although almost certainly many people were not found) but to state that this is how many people slept out during the entire year is just wrong and will lead people to vastly underestimate the problem and therefore propose solutions that can't work.

At least 8000 people were recorded as having slept rough during 2017 in London alone (according to figures from the CHAIN database). Homelessness is not a static issue, meaning that there are not a fixed number of people with 'homeless' branded on their foreheads. It's a fluid issue. People become homeless, they may sleep on the streets for a while, they may sofa surf or squat and then eventually they may get housed again, hopefully.

A snapshot of the number of rough sleepers at any given moment is pretty much irrelevant compared to the rate at which people are flowing onto the streets over a given time and how long on average they're stuck there. That's why you can't just build 4751 new homes for homeless people and deal with the issue just like that.

Homelessness is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to much bigger housing supply issues and issues about security of tenure and affordability and rough sleeping is the most visible tip of that tip. You have to deal with the whole damn iceberg if you want the most ugly visible and painful bits of the problem to go away.