Not just sleeping bags, cardboard and doorways - World Homelessness Day 2015

Paul Morrish | 12.10.15

The government’s determination to tackle poverty, discrimination and disadvantage is welcome.

We need determination like this. Because things are bad. And they’re getting worse.

As we mark World Homelessness Day 2015 – the 5th such day since the initiative started in 2010, surely we’re all wondering how long must the scandal last, in which, for whatever reason, people end up with no roof over their heads – and we in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

I remember speaking to CRISIS’s impressive CEO, Jon Sparkes, over a coffee at their great café, Skylight, on Commercial Road in London’s East End. Surrounded by bearded, fixie-riding Shoreditchistas, he told me that over half of adults who are homeless first became homeless before their 20th birthday.

If that wasn’t shocking enough, he then told me that, on average, each of those young people went on to experience, on average, 5 separate ‘episodes’ of homelessness before skilled and patient charity teams working on streets and in hostels in cities around the UK were able to help them regain, and retain decent accommodation and an independent life once again.

Centrepoint, a national charity working with young people who are homeless, recently reported that approximately 84,000 young people will experience homelessness this year.

Of those, approximately 4,000 will have slept rough –the slightly romantic euphemism for sleeping in doorways, on benches, under bushes, or (as recent reports highlighted) on the London night buses – on an endless circuit of desolate and exposed insecurity.

So for every young person who may spend a night in a sleeping bag, on cardboard, in a doorway – another 20 are sofa-surfing, in hostels, or in cheap B&Bs.

With nowhere to call home.

How is it that, as an advanced and compassionate society, we cast a net to help bring our children and young people safely through the turbulence of adolescence to the shore of adulthood, yet somehow 84,000 young people manage to slip through?

And the insanity is we know who they are likely to be – if they are a young person in care, or permanently excluded from school, or ‘in contact’ with the criminal justice system, or having major problems in the family home, they are more likely to end up homeless.

This reality hasn’t changed massively in the last 5, 10, 20 years.

But in this time, while we’ve landed a module on an asteroid, and flown around the world in a plane powered by the sun alone, we still haven’t worked out how, as a society, we break this appalling cycle of inevitability.

My questions to Government then, are these: what is your measure of success in tackling poverty, discrimination and disadvantage? When the job is done, how will society look?

LandAid, as a charity dedicated to working with projects around the UK supporting some of the most vulnerable children and young people, has a part to play.

And so do the property and construction businesses that support us by raising money for our work, and providing free professional property advice to charity partners around the UK.

On our own, we can only ever stick plasters on the problem.

Together, united, we can begin to tackle the symptoms – learning from some great projects and practitioners who can teach us what works.

City by city – country by country.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was no need for a 10th World Homelessness Day?

Wouldn’t that be a good measure of success for any government wanting to tackle poverty, discrimination and disadvantage as we approach the 2020 General Election.