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How do we solve the problem of homelessness?

 Schoolchildren screamed in delight  as Middlesbrough was covered in a white blanket of snow. But for some people, this  cold snap meant another night living an almost unbearable existence on the streets hoping for another kind of blanket. Tside reporter Alex Backshall walked the streets of Middlesbrough to investigate the problem of homelessness.

Michael Harvey is a 28-year-old volunteer who spends a chunk of his free time volunteering for Hugs for the Homeless – a group set up to assist people who are living on the streets.

As he left a restaurant last Christmas, he heard a voice from across the street call: “Michael, help me, I’m homeless”.

After he turned his head, Michael realised that the voice was emanating from a man who was in his class at school.

Michael’s ex-classmate is the human face of a disturbing statistic revealed last week – at least 140 families become homeless every day, and 2017 has seen the highest numbers of homeless children in a decade.

According to homeless charity Shelter, more than 300,000 people wake up homeless every day: an increase of 13,000 in the space of one year.

The problem of homelessness is routinely blamed on alcohol and drug abuse and whilst that is true to an extent – 38% of homeless people abuse alcohol and 26% regularly use drugs – the problem may be more of a structural one than we think.

Picture courtesy of Mark Testo

Shadow Transport Minister Andy McDonald is Middlesbrough’s Labour MP. He believes that homelessness stems from a failure in government housing policy.

He said: “The politics is relatively easy to fix.”

“Labour will build more homes – 100,000 per year, council houses and to buy, with rent controls to give those in the private rented sector greater security of tenure and affordability.

“There will also have to be changes in planning laws so that the right kind of accommodation is built in the right places.”

Official figures show that the number of new homes built in England last  year has reached the highest level in a decade, with more than 217,000 homes completed.

However, the number of households who own their own homes has fallen by 200,000 since 2010, with the number of under-35s owning their homes falling by 344,000.

Almost a million more households are now renting from private landlords since the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition came to power in 2010.

These statistics show that whilst houses have been built, they are just not affordable to someone who has fallen below the poverty line.

As well as a central government solution to homelessness, Andy thinks that as a society we should change our attitude towards the less fortunate.

He said: “We mustn’t blame people who are homeless for their plight. We need to be sympathetic and more responsive to the needs of the homeless and provide support over and above their accommodation requirements to deal with issues of debt, relationship failure, mental or physical health, drug, alcohol or gambling addictions that may have contributed to their situation.”

Addiction is a major issue among the homeless – two thirds of them cite drug or alcohol use as a reason for first losing their home.

Scottish ministers have suggested devolution of powers so Scotland could attempt to solve the addiction crisis by implementing drug consumption rooms.

The rooms are designed to provide drug users with somewhere safe to inject, avoiding overdoses and HIV infection from shared needles.

Drug consumption rooms have worked in cities all over the world – with staff members at Sydney’s room managing more than 6,000 overdoses in 15 years, with zero fatalities.

The  Conservative Party is averse to the idea of safe consumption rooms, with Prime Minister Theresa May believing that as a society we should strongly discourage drugs and recognise the “damage” that drugs can do.

The Conservative Party also refuses to alter its economic policy of austerity, cutting public spending to reduce the deficit.

 

However, with increasing public pressure put on the government to sort out the problem of homelessness, they may finally be starting to listen.

In the Autumn budget the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, announced that the Government has set a new housing supply target of 300,000 homes and announced extra help for 140,000 households through a Targeted Affordability fund.

Picture courtesy of Mark Testo

Mark Testo is another 28-year-old volunteer from Hugs for the Homeless, he thinks that the public is crying out for money which just isn’t being invested in our communities.

He said: “Look at the money that the UK gives away to foreign countries every year. ”

“I’m not saying to stop giving  money  overseas but how can we justify helping other countries out when we’ve got people of our own living on the streets? I think first and foremost we should look after the people of the UK.”

 

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