What Will It Take to Abolish Homelessness Essay

The underlying reasons for homelessness emanates from numerous social and economic sources such as poverty caused by unemployment or poor paying jobs, a deficit of affordable housing and the lack of services for those who suffer from domestic violence, mental illness and substance abuse. Another lesser discussed issue is recently released prisoners that become homeless because of fewer employment opportunities than the mainstream population enjoys and the fact that that many have difficulty assimilating back into societal norms. Recent statistics released from the Deputy Prime Minister’s office report that there are nearly 100,000 families in the UK that are living in temporary accommodations and more than 10,000 persons are identified as ‘rough sleepers.’ Following legislation that addressed homelessness in 1978, when 53,000 households were accepting the homelessness duty, the number of households, as identified by local authorities that were eligible to receive the duty, progressively increased to approximately 140,000 by the early 1990’s. By 1997, however, this number declined to about 100,000 but then rose again rise until 2003. From 2003 to 2005, this number had been somewhat reduced (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, 2005). This discussion will examine methods that could at least lessen the number of homeless persons and have the ultimate goal of ending this miserable human condition. It will review the broad underlying causes of homelessness and include possible solutions then explore how financial and health care exclusions that homeless persons experience exacerbate the problem along with recommendations. The dialogue concludes by visualising two general circumstances that could occur in the future regarding homeless people and the agencies responsible for their housing and financial aid.

Providing housing to those without a residence cannot alone solve the problem of homelessness because there are fundamental issues that cause people to become homeless. There are other underlying concerns that must be addressed so that long-term solutions can be realised. If these core reasons are not addressed, repeated incidence of homelessness will continue to occur. It requires undertaking the personal, social and economic concerns including interventions at an earlier time in the lives of those who experience drug and alcohol addictions and domestic abuse, creating job opportunities and providing a broader range of housing options if the homeless problem is ever to be properly addressed. The approach to successfully end homelessness involves three core elements. First, local authorities should be encouraged though a rewards-based system for modernising the services they provide such as support and preventive assistance in addition to increasing options for housing so as to reach people earlier, before they actually become homeless. Second, local authorities should be encouraged to form stronger alliances between themselves, landlords, housing associations and other volunteer-based agencies within a community. By acting together, this will provide additional solutions to people who are on the edge of becoming homeless. Third, the government, with the assistance of community organisations, should adopt a wider array of policy enhancements designed to better determine and access those who are in the greatest jeopardy of becoming homeless. If these methods are implemented, more people will have the ability to access services thereby leading independent, healthy and productive lives. This, in turn, benefits all of society (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, 2005).

In order to abolish homelessness, people should be provided with the means by which they can effectively address their personal, financial and housing needs so that they can avoid becoming homeless. Preventative actions include local authorities working with landlords to enable families to stay at their current residence until other accommodations can be found thus allowing them to maintain an independent existence. For example, if parents, friends or relatives are not willing or able offer housing accommodation, local authorities could then intercede to assist the family. Those that are experiencing violence in the home and have no where else to go should be offered sanctuary until they can find permanent housing or given protection while they remain in the home. Landlords should be given financial incentives when they rent to homeless persons. When people are behind in their rent payments and are facing eviction, debt counseling services should be available and housing benefit payments quickly addressed. These preventative measures will not cause additional burdens on the ‘public purse.’ In fact, it has been shown that preventing homelessness leads to substantial savings in temporary housing expenditures by local authorities. “In October 2003, 177 local authorities estimated that they would achieve savings of around £29 million, an average of £163,000 per authority as a result of prevention initiatives” (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, 2005).

It is a fact that people who are without homes seldom possess credit cards or even have bank accounts. They carry cash in a harsh environment where violence is common. The affects of this financial segregation are not only socially disgraceful for the homeless person, but the powerlessness that people feel when they cannot open a bank account acts as not only a psychological, but physical barrier as well to securing employment or any other type of normalcy in their lives. Though the majority of current homeless persons probably held bank accounts prior to their current condition, banking qualifications prevent those without a verifiable address to obtain a new account and certainly not other banking services such as loans. Homeless persons likely could not secure a loan anyway because of their present debt status which contributed to their present condition. Most do not possess the financial knowledge or confidence required so as to solve this situation. Of course banking options are probably not the first priority for the homeless as they are simply trying to survive day-to-day. However, in order to secure housing and employment, access to banking services is essential.

Because many homeless people do not trust the very financial establishment that foreclosed on their mortgage or repossessed their auto, the government must enlighten homeless persons that many initiatives currently exist that presently “co-ordinate the activities of private sector financial service providers and third sector housing or community organisations to provide basic bank accounts, affordable credit, face-to-face money advice, encourage savings and provide capital to enterprises in disadvantaged locations” (Wallace & Quilgars, 2005). Presently, it seems that there is insufficient information provided regarding the integration of financial projects that are directed at homeless persons. For example, housing associations presently act as mediators and communicate available financial opportunities to individuals who are in a financially marginalised situation but this communication reaches only those who currently have a place to live. In addition, many agencies that offer the homeless monetary advice are allied with banks and could offer the homeless financially-related options. A consorted effort by the government, banking institutions and the various homeless agencies to reach more homeless persons would certainly aid in the goal of abolishing homelessness.

Health issues, both physical and psychological, often negatively affect a homeless person’s re-entry into society. Health care services for the homeless are intrinsically inadequate. “Both mainstream and specialist health services may have a role within multi-service responses, but they should not be expected to function as ‘one-stop’ solutions for homelessness” (Quilgars & Please, 2003). Similarly, the homeless should not be required or expected to posses a permanent address as a prerequisite to receiving healthcare and therefore causing unnecessary obstructions to services. Ultimately, healthcare needs for the homeless can only be addressed by abolishing homelessness.

Two general future developments can be envisaged for the homelessness problem. The first one is where higher political and public priorities result in a redistribution of government funding. As a result, local authorities have continued difficulties meeting their lawful responsibilities claiming that inadequate resources along with a lack of housing prevent them from properly addressing the problem. The second foresees a resulting reduction in overall poverty and a lower unemployment rate contributing to a decline in homeless applicants to the local authority. The 2002 Homelessness Act produced a number of original and innovative strategies to not only address homelessness today but the future homeless as well. Specifically, “Supporting People proves to be an effective way of providing the long-term support needs of people who are at risk of homelessness (and) local authorities focus on a range of ways of dealing with the housing needs of homeless people such as using empty homes” (Saxton & Evans, 2002). The resolve of the public and therefore politicians to abolish homelessness determine which of the two scenarios described will occur. Of course, enacting legislation alone will not lessen the number of homeless. Adequate resources must be allocated to produce additional affordable housing units and either create or restructure and improve collaborative efforts between homelessness agency services. If these agencies are able to effectively prevent homelessness as well as adapt to various challenges facing those currently without a permanent residence, the goal of abolishing homelessness will be closer to a reality (Saxton & Evans, 2002).

Those that are homeless have numerous, multifaceted needs, particularly if they have been forced to sleep rough during their ordeal. Many factors could result in a person or family becoming homeless including chronic unemployment caused by mental or physical illness, old age, substance abuse, poor readjustment back into ‘normal’ society following a stay in the armed services or prison as well as various other types of disabilities, among other causes. The number and extent of the problems homeless persons endure only compound over time. It is financially advantageous for the public and politicians to solve the problem. Helping to take someone off the streets and place them back into mainstream society allows them to contribute to the economy rather than continuing to rely on public assistance. “It is not cheap to provide the intensive support that can successfully tackle complex and multiple needs, but neglect or failure to do so costs society far more” (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2005). Though there are examples of agencies that offer innovative services and have greatly improved the lives of the homeless, they are the exception not the rule. These examples and other guidelines such as are described in this paper give a roadmap to the ultimate goal of abolishing homelessness if all those who weren’t homeless were willing to implement them.

References

Joseph Rowntree Foundation. (2005). Do You Want to End Homelessness? Available 17 February 2007 from

Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. (2005). Sustainable Communities: Settled Homes, Changing Lives. London: Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, 2005. Available 17 February 2007 from

Quilgars, D. & Please, N. (May 2003). Delivering Health Care to Homeless People: An Effectiveness Review. The University of York Centre for Housing Policy. Available 17 February 2007 from

Saxton, J. & Evans, E. (23 September 2002). The External Environment and its Impact on Homelessness. Available 17 February 2007 from

Wallace A. & Quilgars, D. (2005). Homelessness and Financial Exclusion: A Literature Review. London: Friends Provident/London Housing Foundation. Available 17 February 2007 from

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