Globe, Human Rights, Politiks, United Kingdom

UK Homeless: more than a million (I)

An 18% increase in homeless people in England. In Scotland, a 20% decrease. Half the people sleeping on the streets of London are immigrants.


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María Marzo


100 million people in the world live without a home. Of these, 3 million are in Europe, with the United Kingdom being one of the countries with the highest number of “roofless”: 1 million.

A person without a home is “roofless”, but their personal circumstances mean that they are divided into three types or different classifications: those that sleep outside; those that sleep in the home of a friend, family member or property which they have accessed and occupied illegally (what is commonly known as ‘squatting’); and those that sleep in a shelter.

Given this differentiation, it is difficult to determine the total number of ‘roofless’ people. Furthermore, other factors affecting the number within each classification must be taken into account, making the task even harder.

In the case of those that sleep outside, the fact that they do this at different times of day and in different places prevents the formulation of a concrete number. Many of these ‘roofless’ opt to use night buses, choosing those on the longest routes and sleeping inside during the duration of the journey. Once over, they get off and take another.

Those that are, in a temporary way, staying with friends or family, are not registered with any institution or official organisation.

This type of living situation is usually chosen by those that overnight, find themselves without a home and consider their stay with friends or family as only something temporary.

Shelters are the solution for those without children to take care of. But those staying here are not considered legally ‘roofless’, which is why they are not included in  studies by local councils or local government agencies.

England

In spite of these difficulties, studies do exist that show the number of homeless people at a particular time or the number of those that become ‘roofless’ during a period of time.

An example of the former case is the sample published in March by the charity Shelter  that highlights an 18% increase in applications by homeless people in England between October and December in the last year, as compared to 2010. London, in fact, is where the level has increased considerably: 36% higher.

According to a public study from last March 28th, the centres aimed at providing assistance to the ‘roofless’ attended to 25% more people daily than in 2010, with those that sleep on the streets making up a third of these.

Loss of work, depression, alcoholism, domestic violence, mental illnesses and drug addiction are some of the reasons that people can end up without a roof to live under.

However, the economic crisis and the cuts related to this area carried out by the London council are also responsible for the precarious situation in which homeless people live.

The fact of being an immigrant is another factor that can lead to a person  being ‘roofless’. Proof of this can be found in the latest study carried out by the Department of Communities and Local Government, that revealed that 52% of  people that sleep on the streets of London are immigrants, with 28% of those being from within the European Union.

Many of these people arrive at the United Kingdom with the idea of finding a better life, but the economic crisis that the country is experiencing and the impossibility of finding a job means that they find themselves on the streets.

Others are victims of the trafficking of drugs or illegal objects, having received false promises of a job or source of income.

The motives for which they arrive on the island can be different, but what is common amongst the great majority of them, is the situation of helplessness and loneliness that they must live through because of their circumstances.

They find themselves in a foreign country, unable to speak English, they do not understand how the system works and do not have access to an established system that can help them.

The NGO CRI, aware of this situation, has created a service directed exclusively at those ‘roofless’ from  various countries of the European Union. The aim is to provide help to access the necessary services in the United Kingdom or, if they wish, to return to their countries of origin.

Where is the money?

The question that presents itself is where have the five million pounds assigned to this problem gone?

What is certain is that the increase of homeless people in London is one of the principal social problems that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has to deal with. Two years ago he promised that nobody would be sleeping on the streets of the capital by the end of 2012, but in spite of this, in the last weeks he has been found involved in a possible case involving the redirection of funds originally assigned to this end.

Various charity organisations suspect that Johnson has diverted 5.3 million pounds to other objectives. With the aim of finding out where this amount has gone, the NGOs sent a letter to the Mayor demanding that this money, in excess of five million pounds, be used for those  it was intended for by David Cameron’s government.

Furthermore, it must be remembered that the British Executive has transferred a total of 33.8 million pounds to Johnson to finance a programme of assistance services until 2015 for people that sleep in the streets, a package that represents almost 8.5 million pounds per year.

During 2011-2012, the first year of this government programme, the spending directed at the homeless was 7.5 million pounds, an amount less than the annual 8.5 million. The Mayor has pointed out that he will reinvest the unused amount, committing 9.5 million pounds to the next fiscal programme. However, The Guardian reported that in his budgets, it is indicated that during the next years of the programme leading up to 2015, 21 million pounds will be invested,  taking the total up to 28.5 million.

Second part: “Mszanik, looking for a roof in Scotland”

(Translated by Tim Huntington)

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