The cost of living crisis poses a real danger to many, but we must remember that there is no single cause of homelessness, and no single solution.
By Jeremy Gray
The rising cost of living has been hard to miss in recent months. Inflation, stagnant wages and tax increases are lowering people’s spending power in real terms, and households across the country are feeling the squeeze.
Naturally, these circumstances raise fears about increased homelessness. In London, where high rents and a lack of affordable housing already force many into precarious living situations, there is a real risk that rising costs will mean that some people fall into poverty or lose their homes. Many charities have said they are seeing this already, and the Government must act to support those at risk. Any efforts to do so are welcome and necessary.
However, when thinking about homelessness, we must understand that the measures needed to create lasting change go well beyond short-term economic relief. Financial difficulty is a common thread running through many people’s experience of homelessness, but to think of it in just those terms would risk missing the whole picture.
Money for people on low incomes will help in some cases. For others, who perhaps live with abusive family members, or struggle with addiction or mental health issues, the answer is not so simple.
Homelessness cannot be understood fully when surveyed from the top down. Instead, we must understand it on a case by case basis, learning about each individual’s circumstances. From there, the correct type of support – be that economic, educational, therapeutic or otherwise – can be devised and delivered.
The story of one of our recent customers reflects this well. Originally from London, Mia moved to the US with her family before difficult circumstances forced her to move back to the UK alone. She moved in with her partner, but when the partner became abusive she had no choice but to leave. She stayed first in emergency council accommodation and then at one of our services, where she lived for two years. During that time we worked with her on a range of issues through therapy, education and vocational training. She has now moved into her own flat, an amazing example of what people can do and the changes they can make to their lives.
Mia’s story shows the individual nature of homelessness. It is both similar to other stories, and completely unique in terms what her experience of homelessness was like.
In recent years we have strengthened our Health + Wellbeing programme in order to respond properly to such differences between the people we work with. We offer a range of therapeutic support, counselling and peer-support projects which all aim to address specific challenges and offer different opportunities. For Mia, counselling, vocational training and peer support helped her address past experiences and build on her aspirations. For others, very different support might be needed.
More money for those on low incomes is of course vital and will certainly help people forced into insecure living arrangements due to financial pressures. However, when thinking about the causes of, and solutions to homelessness, we should not imagine that it is always a straightforward economic equation. It is a far more nuanced issue than that.
It is only in an individualised way that we can meaningfully address homelessness. If we are to continue doing so throughout this cost-of-living crisis, that is how we must approach it.
Jeremy Gray is Chief Executive of Evolve Housing + Support.