Ending homelessness, or not

Crisis has published a manifesto to end homelesslessness in Scotland.  There are five main proposals:

  • Adopt a new cross-departmental strategy for tackling homelessness
  • Commit to investing in a more proactive approach to prevention
  • Increase support for homeless people with complex needs
  • Time limit Temporary Accommodation
  • Commit to using devolved powers on social security to prevent homelessness

While there’s nothing here to dislike – this will help people –  none of this could end homelessness.  It is not sure even to reduce it.  The problem of homelessness is not in the first instance a problem of people with complex needs; it’s all about maths.  If there are more households than units of accommodation, then however you cut it, some people will end up with nowhere to live.  The people who are left out are those who are least able to compete for scarce resources – usually the poorest, sometimes people with complex needs, sometimes people who are excluded.   They are whoever comes last.  They will have to live wherever they can – with friends, with relatives, surfing sofas, in unfit housing, and so on.  But if there aren’t enough places to live, someone is going to wind up with no home.

I made an argument last summer for a substantial expansion of the building programme.   We can’t respond adequately to  homelessness without it. Because extra houses go first to people with more resources – second homes, people in household breakups, the children of better off parents – the numbers needed will be more than the crude housing shortage suggests. We have to build now, build accessibly, and build in large numbers.

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