Manchester City Council admits that the number of renters are rising, and the number of 'entrenched rough sleepers' are too. The impact of cuts and welfare changes has seen a visible increase in homelessness and the vulnerably housed population in Greater Manchester.
Yesterday I attended the City Centre Ward Coordination meeting in which Alex Delap, of the Council's Children's and Adult's Services gave a presentation to the assembled resident representatives and Councillors on homelessness and rough sleeping.
Mr. Delap explained the relationship between the rise in rough sleepers and those homeless individuals accessing Manchester City Council's Support Services. He stated that annually over 5000 homeless people seek help and that figure has stayed fairly constant, while those numbers of people living (rough sleeping) on the street has begun to rise steeply.
Manchester City council have only 500 mixed tenure accommodations to offer those in need of housing, and of those offerings many are provided by private landlords.
Mr. Delap’s comments are supported by evidence I have seen as both resident and worker in Manchester over the past 10 years, and from field research and conversations with homeless charities such as Barnabus on Bloom Street in the city centre, and the Central Food Bank on Oxford Road. The Director of Barnabus stated that they have supported an annually increasing number of service users accessing their drop in centre and seeking support in rehousing. The number of renters falling into the cycle of vulnerably housed-to-homeless is also becoming more prevalent in this era of cuts, and in light of the Autumn Statement from George Osborne, the Government expect that we are only 40% of our way through these 'austerity measures'.
Where does that leave almost 50% of the Briton's who are struggling to cover their rental costs?
In summary: out in the cold.
Figuratively and financially the population of the UK are expecting times to become harder, the government's own forecast expect real average wages to fall until at least 2017, while cost of rents continue to increase with no protection for the tenants at the sharp end.
Mr. Delap explains that all local authorities have a statutory responsibility for dealing with applications for assistance from people who are homeless but "the majority of homeless are not a high level need". However, the eligibility for assistance is defined on a scale which ignores most single people. This is potentially very concerning for the high population of single private renters, subject to the ever more unstable, unaffordable private rental sector.
In a legal context of homelessness those who cannot be turned away are those under the age of 16 and pregnant women, as well as families with young children. The priority groups are supported first and foremost. This is practically speaking, completely understandable, as local authorities’ resources grow ever more scarce and the Housing Act 1996 clearly sets criterion for assistance as:
1) eligible for homelessness assistance
2) priority need (For example young families, youths and pregnant women)
3) intentionally homeless (ineligible)
4) has a local connection (for example, links to another Local Authority, and therefore ineligible)
The difficulty with regard to 'intentional homelessness' as a definition is this cannot take into account the increasingly complex and common factors driving people out of their homes, everything from dangerous conditions of the property, retaliatory eviction, to abuse.
Currently Generation Rent are supporting Crisis' campaign to ensure that individuals who are homeless aren't turned away without help this Winter. For further details of Crisis' investigation and report check the following link to Crisis's campaign, 'No One Turned Away': http://www.crisis.org.uk/pages/no-one-turned-away.html
Many of those who speak of homelessness in simple terms fail to realise how easy it can be to fall out of security and into a life on the street. One case study Generation Rent Manchester felt deeply about sharing was that of Joseph, a rough-sleeper in the city centre.
Joseph had a well paid role as a head chef, supplemented by work as a jazz saxophonist and rented a property jointly with his partner. A series of tragic events led to him being forced out of his home, and having no family or friends in the area he fell into temporary accommodation and eventually found himself on the street. When asked what he would like to do to improve his situation, he said he just wanted to get back into work, and have a roof over his head but yet he was stuck here in this rut as no one dared 'look at him, let alone help' him 'get back to a normal life'.
While Joseph's case might sound rare, he was classified as intentionally homeless and as a single person had little recourse to help. He left his home because of domestic abuse and a breakdown in his relationship and then in professional life.
The real life stories of those sleeping rough who are often condemned by the judgements of others, can really start to build awareness of the state of our housing support systems. The life expectancy of someone living on the street is 40 years old for women and 47 years old for men, an incredibly frightening projection.
Thinking about this on a personal level; if my own landlord put my rent up tomorrow in line with the recent national rent increases, and I was unlucky enough not to find a new place with an affordable deposit and agency fee, then I could find myself on the street within 6 months too. Under the current legislation I would have no legal backing to prevent my landlord if he chose to do this, nor would I have recourse to support if he evicted me for resisting this rent increase.
Instead of thinking about 'preventative services' the local Council and the Government should be thinking about a secondary housing market that provides affordable properties and reinvests the proceeds from these into building more affordable properties.
Sounds like a pipe dream? It certainly isn't. 'Buying out of the Bubble' is not only possible, it is crucial of we want to provide housing for this generation and the next.
Please take a look at Generation Rent's Policy for an affordable housing market and if it makes you nod in agreement please join us.