HOMELESSNESS is a crisis born from the “ruinous expense” of housing in the UK, and the “dreadful scenario” of people in need being turned away by local councils, the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, has said. And, he went on, although churches and other voluntary organisations are responding through fund-raising, night shelters, and foodbanks, the Government must give more.
Bishop Chessun was speaking during the second reading of the Homelessness Reduction Bill in the House of Lords, which was passed last Friday. Churches are providing temporary housing and provisions for hundreds of individuals left in “soul-destroying” isolation around the country — in particular the “single homeless” and military veterans, he said. But the Government’s contribution of £61 million falls short of the £77 million needed to implement the Bill.
The Private Member’s Bill was introduced by a Conservative backbencher, Bob Blackman, last November, and was passed by MPs from all parties without any votes against (News, 4 November).
It seeks to change the 1996 Housing Act to require councils to assess whether people are at risk of homelessness much earlier than is currently the case — thus giving those at risk of losing their home more time to seek help from their local authority. It would also give councils a longer period in which to help those who had recently become homeless to find accommodation.
“Changes in legislation will not be enough on their own,” Bishop Chessun warned. “Legislation will avail us little if suitable accommodation is not available in areas where there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing. . . The appropriate solution must be remedial action: relevant services, including housing provision, and a relational response.”
The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, who also chairs the campaign charity Housing Justice, welcomed the £61 million, but agreed that the Government must be equally “generous” in its biennial review, to ensure that the “unknown demand for advice, advocacy, and support services” would be met.
Lord Best, introducing the debate, praised the “strenuous efforts” of some local councils, but said that others required a “whole cultural shift” from “doing nothing to making efforts to help people pre-empt, prevent, and avoid homelessness”. The Bill was “not going to end homelessness”, which would require “massive efforts to ease housing shortages”, but it might reduce numbers, he said.
It came as Housing Justice launched an online resource on homelessness for churches, A Place to Call Home?, last Friday, in partnership with the Joint Public Issues Team, who work on behalf of the Baptist Union, Church of Scotland, Methodist Church, and the United Reformed Church, to tackle issues surrounding poverty, peace, and the environment.
Its author, the Revd Phil Jump, an interim public-issues officer with the Baptist Union, said that homelessness was “more than a crisis of bricks and mortar”, since sub-standard living was affecting the development of children, and disadvantaging the next generation.
The chief executive of Housing Justice, Alison Gelder, said: “Church members can often see the effect of homelessness as they walk to and from their place of worship each week. . . I encourage Christians of all traditions to take some time, especially as we approach Lent, to use these materials.”
Bishop sleeps out for Lent. The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, and the Archdeacon of Brighton and Lewes, the Ven. Martin Lloyd Williams, have launched the diocesan Lent appeal to raise funds for the YMCA Downslink Group, which supports young homeless people.
Dr Warner and Archdeacon Williams plan to sleep rough outside the YMCA in Hove on Friday 24 March. Rising homelessness, particularly of young people, is a “social scandal that demands our compassion and urgent attention”, Dr Warner said.
“I am no hero. One night ‘under cardboard’ in no way compares with the despair of those who see homelessness as their only option. But I hope that one night will help to raise a wider awareness of the issue and produce a wider, serious and effective response.”