The link between homelessness and the early years
Friday, November 29, 2019
In October, one of the LEYF managers slept out to raise awareness about homelessness. Her observations prompted this blog.
I felt vulnerable and rather lonely in the early hours when the rain was falling and I was left with my thoughts and cold limbs. This should not be thousands of people’s reality. Nobody should be sleeping on cold, dangerous streets.
Homelessness is an issue that has become very prevalent across the UK and it’s hard to ignore. When I was 16, I started volunteering with the Simon Community in Cork. Based at a night shelter we cooked up what is now called “freegan food” to produce a hot meal while also offering a chat, some clean clothes and a bit of advice to the homeless of Cork, many whom were broken by a sad life of addiction and mental ill health. It started my career as a psychiatric nurse.
Since then I am hyper alert to the issue of homelessness. The level it has reached today makes me more and more uncomfortable as we listen to people plead for small change to get a bed for the night on a daily basis. What can we do but put a pound in a cup or donate to a charity? Homelessness doubled over the last few years and it’s a very sad situation to observe the estimated 9,000 people sleeping on the pavements of London on any given night.
I am not sure if that number includes those people who sit in MacDonald’s all night or just sleep on the Night Bus or the corner of A&E to keep warm and safe. Or the 796 people who died on the streets over the last 18 months according to The Big Issue, an organisation that continues to raise the issue of homelessness, not least through its magazine selling system that offers people a hand up not a hand out.
It’s a shock to know just how easy it is to fall into homelessness. According to Shelter, there are 277,000 people without a permanent home in the England, with 170,000 in London. With so many working young people unable to rent or buy a home this problem will get worse. It’s also extraordinary to me that young men don’t meet basic criteria for rehousing because they are men. Please tell me why?
Another disturbing situation is the increasing number of women rough sleeping which reached 18 per cent in London last year. Many women become homeless fleeing from domestic violence. In London, there was a 63 per cent increase in domestic abuse offences between 2011 and 2018. In the year ending March 2011, there were 48,422 domestic abuse offences recorded by the Metropolitan police, compared with 78,814 up to the same point in 2018. The number of killings in London linked to domestic abuse trebled from nine to 29 in 2018.
But what’s it got to do with early years?
Nearly 85,000 families live in temporary accommodation. Lack of affordable housing is a primary cause; even though often one or both parents are working, but not making a living wage. Additionally, events such as illness, unemployment, accidents and domestic violence limit the ability to secure stable and affordable housing. Children really suffer as a consequence of this and therefore it becomes our business.
The Evening Standard has begun a Homeless Appeal. This will raise awareness and no doubt benefit the 170,000 lucky people from their partner charities under the umbrella of the Homeless Collective. But the issue is much more fundamental. It should be a central tenet of any election manifesto. As a society, it is simply not OK that we cannot provide basic housing for people who live in the UK.
June O'Sullivan is chief executive of London Early Years Foundation. This blog was first published on the LEYF website