There is always more media coverage of homelessness at this time of year. Partly because homelessness relates to the Christmas story and partly because of the extra hardship of living rough in the winter months. Already there have been reports of at least three people who have died while sleeping out. There has been more coverage this year because there are more homeless people and they are becoming more visible. This is a direct result of the housing crisis and the multiple effect of various government policies and the deep-rooted inequality and poverty in our society.
It is good to see the profile raised but we should remember that homelessness is not seasonal. It affects people every day of the year and it is getting worse.
That is why when I am not ranting about the demise of social housing, I spend some of my time working with great people who provide accommodation and support to people who have been homeless. I work with two charities that realise providing a warm and safe environment to live in is only part of the solution to homelessness. They understand that simply putting someone who doesn’t have a ‘home’ into a ‘house’ doesn’t solve their problems. They both attempt to provide more: a home, a sense of belonging, and self-belief.
I am just about to stand down as chair of Emmaus in Leicestershire and Rutland. Emmaus has existed in Europe and the UK for many years. It provides homeless people with a home in a community, and employment and support in various social enterprises. This combination of individual and community support has seen great achievements. Many companions who have experienced living in an Emmaus community move on to lead very successful lives. A unique feature of Emmaus is that each community seeks to be self-sufficient and reduce its dependency on benefits and other funding through the development of social enterprises. This work has become even more important in the current financial climate.
I have recently become a trustee of another charity working with homeless people. The Mayday Trust has also existed for a number of years and until recently provided traditional accommodation and support. It has now transformed its operational model following extensive research and feedback from the people who use its services.
It works with people going through the toughest of life transitions – often those leaving prison or care. It assists individuals to identify their own strengths and goals which they ultimately use to overcome any personal or institutional barriers. Its coaching methods are innovative in the sector and are producing remarkable results. It is now seeking to expand this work to meet the ever-growing need.
Both of these charities are great examples of organisations that are adapting and changing to provide solutions to address the issues faced by some of the most marginalised people in our society. They seek to create homes – “homes which are rooted in human connection and purpose, which have foundations and safety nets which are not services, but which provide friends, families and jobs”, as a colleague said recently. Both work in different ways and reflect the fact that there is no simple, single solution to the devastating increase in homelessness.
What the organisations have in common is that they are staffed by extraordinary employees and volunteers who go the extra mile to provide support for those who are bearing the brunt of the housing crisis. They are my housing heroes for 2016 as, sadly, the need for their work increases. If, like me, you are shocked and angry that 50 years after Cathy Come Home there is still a crisis, why not seek out your local homeless charity and see what you can do to help? The time for action is now, not just because it is nearly Christmas but because help and support are required every day of the year.
This article originally appeared in Inside Housing