What is homelessness?

Crisis defines homelessness as someone without a home. This does not only mean those rough sleepers, but all of those who are living in temporary accommodation, hostels, or on friends and families sofas; the hidden homeless!

On their website they state:

“Homelessness is about more than rooflessness. A home is not just a physical space, it also has a legal and social dimension. A home provides roots, identity, a sense of belonging and a place of emotional wellbeing. Homelessness is about the loss of these. Homelessness is costly to the individual, society and the state.”

A recent article on the Press Gazette website, took a look at this homelessness and the reporting of it, and gave a very interesting analysis. Homelessness is not only about having a roof over our heads, but it is about the safety and security which comes with having a home. As Charles Howgego, editor of the Big Issue states in the article “it is not necessarily a housing issue; it includes social exclusion, institutionalisation, relationship issues, addiction, debt and mental ill-health”.

Figures taken by Shelter say there were 3,600 people who spent a night on the streets in 2009, but 8,900 people lost their homes through repossession in the period between July and September alone last year, and many of those reporting on the housing market in the UK think this is set to get even worse, with the cuts which the country is facing.

A fundamental shift has happened in the housing market in the UK, and it is become more fashionable and practical for  people to rent rather than buy. The average age in the UK currently for first time buyers in 37, and a change is being made from being a country with the highest rate of home-ownership outside of the US, to one where people will continue to rent much later in life.

So how much will reporting of housing change and develop? Housing has been a issue which has been largely ignored in the British press, as specialist reporters decline, and housing becomes part of a wider brief. But the reporters spoken to by the Press Gazette believe this could be an busy, albeit morbid, time for reporters.

The Coalition Government’s plan for housing include an announcement in October last year setting out a cap in housing benefits, a cut of almost 50% of the housing budget from £8.6bn to £4.6bn over the next four years, and removal of lifetime tenure for council housing tenants. The Coalition Agreement stated it hoped to remove the burden of social housing from the taxpayer, and while these new measures look set to go some-way to doing this, it unfortunately could also see many more people being labelled as ‘homeless’ in the near future.

While some journalists, such as Giles Barrie, editor of Property Week, believe a new, fresh system must be found, others are more cautious of what this could mean. Stuart Macdonald, editor of Inside Housing has launched a campaign in the magazine called “What’s the benefit?”, hoping to ensure the changes which are made are done a fairly as possible.

It is still somewhat unclear about what the overall outcome will be when it comes to housing. Yes to does look as if more people may loose their homes, with 134,000 of the 3 million people on housing benefit looking likely to be made homeless (figures from Shelter). On the other hand, Sarah O’Grady, property correspondent at the Daily Express believes the housing benefit is ‘not sustainable’ and the cuts will benefit tax payers.

So there is some disagreement about the policies, but every correspondent believes there will be a lot of write about in the near future, has there has already been a growing interest through the housing boom and the downturn. I just want to finish with a small note from Charles Howgego. After a recent time I spent with some of the hidden homeless in London, I think it represents, just how important it is for people, not only the rough sleepers, but all those who do not have a home, to find somewhere they can feel safe. When asked where homeless stories could be found from reporters he said:

“The challenge is to communicate what homelessness is…go to a hostel and write about how the majority in this country are abominable, which is why rough sleepers often prefer to be on the streets. Challenge expectations -that’s my tip.”

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