Bedding on Southampton Streets. Homelessness in Southampton- A growing trauma

Walking down Southampton High Street, Portswood High Street, and other areas in the city, you will see people, mainly men, are sitting on the floor begging  and/or sleeping rough. They are not looking well and are asking for our help.  There is controversy over how many of these people fall in to the category of homeless. Some have been branded as con-artists, or “not even” homeless by the local press and by parts of the council. Intentional or not, this has had the effect of tarnishing a whole group of vulnerable people as potentially criminal.  The real story is that homelessness in Southampton, whether visible or invisible, is a growing problem for these people experiencing it and those at risk-of homelessness.

Let us first tackle a few misconceptions regarding the wider problems of visible and invisible homelessness. Those who suffer from this ongoing trauma, and those working inside the charity and local government sector have a great deal to tell us:

  • Firstly, no-one chooses to be homeless.  The causes of homelessness are many-fold and often out of the hands of those affected, they are symptoms of wider structural problems within our society. A few of the causes of homelessness are:  relationship and family breakdown, domestic violence, bereavement, mortgage arrears, being a care leaver, an armed forces leaver, prison leaver, poor mental health and substance addictions. However, there is no one model for homelessness - it could happen to anyone given the wrong combination of circumstances.
  • Homeless persons are not only those sleeping or begging on the streets or in temporary shelters.  People who are in a situation of sofa-surfing also fall into this insecure and unsafe position. As cozy as sofa-surfing may sound, it often isn’t.  With people having to move from, if they are lucky, a friend’s sofa to another friend’s sofa.  Often they may not actually be friends, leaving people in potentially dangerous situations. 
  • In fact the majority of those classified as homeless, are these hidden homeless. They are sofa-surfing or living in squats, in unlicensed caravans and tents, or in hospital and prison with nowhere to go after release.

Our current council have recently publicised one solution to the visible “problem”, which looks set to go ahead, which amounts to removing street begging from the gaze of the rest of the citizens of our city. This will do nothing to alleviate the actual problems these people are living through.  The majority of these people begging will be homeless in one of the forms that have been highlighted above.  Everyone should remember that these people are citizens of this city, and should be treated with the same respect and dignity as the rest of us expect.

There are charities in the city which work in conjunction with the council’s housing department, to help the homeless.  The Society of St James, Chapter 1 and YMCA directly house struggling people in Southampton referred to them by No Limits, Probation, Social Services and other referring agencies. However, there is very limited availability, with priority going to those under 18 and pregnant women.  YMCA and Chapter 1 focus on young people’s housing needs, with the Society of St James predominately (but not entirely) focusing on older people’s needs.  When these services are full, especially during peak times such as the long winter months, homeless people have few back-ups to turn to.  Alongside this, emergency hostel accommodation in the city is in even shorter supply.  If you suddenly have nowhere to stay the night your options are almost non-existent. Being solely reliant on one’s own resourcefulness and resiliency during a time in your life when you are facing such trauma is extremely difficult to sustain without support.


What do we propose as a party to alleviate the suffering in Southampton?

As a party we are not blind to the savage cuts forced on local councils by this government.  Because of this, there are both short and long term local and national policies that require urgent implementation to improve the situation for those most vulnerable in our society.  Here are just a few;

  • A “Housing First” scheme should be implemented in Southampton (as used very effectively in other areas around the world, in particular the USA). “Housing First is an approach that offers permanent, affordable housing as quickly as possible for individuals and families experiencing homelessness, and then provides the supportive services and connections to the community-based supports people need to keep their housing and avoid returning to homelessness”, source.
  • Any empty properties within the city should be logged on a register and considered for housing people living in a homelessness situation, supplementing Housing First.  This policy should be carried out in consultation with homeless people and the charities which represent them.
  • A form of rent control should be introduced across the country.  This would include rent increases linked to an inflationary index rather than at the whim of the landlord.  This would also target the ending of short-term contracts, providing the renter with more housing security.
  • Landlords should be prevented from discriminating against those looking to rent using housing benefit.  This is a huge disincentive to those looking to privately rent who are on housing benefit, making a complicated system even more opaque and inaccessible.
  • The inability to continue mortgage payments should not result in home repossession. Under Green Party policy, home owners who are unable to meet their mortgage payments and are under threat of repossession would have a right to transfer ownership to the council. The home would be sold at less than market value, in exchange for the right to remain in the home and pay rent as council tenants.

There is more to this story, including the need to build huge numbers of affordable, high-standard and environmentally-sound rental housing. The current political climate and attitude towards taxpayer’s money and its use in the UK make these policies unlikely to be implemented anytime soon.  However, it is important to continue to listen to homeless people and experts in the field and to keep hearing and highlighting what a poor job this government is doing in helping these vulnerable people.  This government have continually stated their welfare and housing reform policies will not hit the most disadvantaged, but this is patently not true . The Green Party will continue to raise this issue and offer potential solutions to providing real support for those fellow citizens experiencing such a debilitating trauma.