Helping the homeless

One of the most overused, but least acted, on sayings is that the treatment of the most vulnerable is the test of a society’s greatness and civilisation. But homeless people are routinely turned away in London with little or no help at all.In England, if you are single and have no children, you don’t qualify for help from your local council. Without the help of charities, you could be left entirely destitute. Councils will turn you away, after determining that you aren’t vulnerable enough.

If you decide to leave a run-down home or a rogue landlord, or you try to move to an area with better job prospects but struggle to find housing, you may be judged “intentionally homeless”, which disqualifies you from help. Even families with children can be left sofa surfing, turned away by their council.

Crisis has long campaigned against this cruel disregard for people’s well-being. They currently have a major campaign called No One Turned Away, which I am happy to support as a Green Party candidate in the forthcoming General Election.

In their latest research, they sent “mystery shoppers” to councils seeking help, making clear they had nowhere to stay that night. More than half were simply turned away without any help, and most in London without even a proper assessment of their needs. This is a despicable way to treat people, and completely counter-productive if they end up on the streets that night, because their health, job prospects and state of mind is only going to get worse, costing the state more in the long run to help them get their lives back on track.

Last year, 6,508 people were seen sleeping rough in London, of whom 187 were in Lewisham or Bromley, according to the latest report from the network of outreach workers co-ordinated by City Hall. Those ending up on the streets are just the tip of the iceberg – many more are sofa surfing, or living in overcrowded homes while they try to find somewhere they can afford.

We most stop turning people away

The Green Party policy, decided democratically by our members, is to:

  • give councils the same duty to help single homeless people as families with children
  • abolish the “intentionally homeless” provisions
  • stop the cuts to councils and charities, so they can provide enough beds in hostels, decent support services, and regular outreach to find people in need
  • repair the broken welfare safety net, ensuring people can access housing benefit and emergency grants to access a home

In the short term, that would ensure that nobody need be turned away by their council. But we also need to make sure everyone can get access to a comfortable and secure home that they can afford, including those who have found themselves homeless. That is why the Green Party has pledged to build half a million social rented homes over the next Parliament.

If the way we treat the vulnerable is a mark of our society’s greatness, then recent decades have shown us to be a very small-hearted country. Let us, instead, live up to that saying.