Over the weekend I went to London, visiting a friend I haven’t seen in a year. We walked along Southbank, wound our way through various shops to Covent Garden and stopped in Camden. The latter was as busy as the tube is at rush hour on a Monday, full of stalls selling “one of a kind” items that are identical to something sold a few metres down the road. You could stay a whole day in Camden, exploring, but we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon on Hampstead Heath, lazing in the sun. If you have me on snapchat you will have seen all of this documented in annoyingly regular story updates.
Everywhere we went was busy, buzzing with people in shorts and skirts, desperate to catch the early summer heat which you can never be sure will last in the UK for more than a day. However, for every man in a business suit with a loosened tie and every white girl wearing henna and every “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” group of friends out for the day, there were at least three people sitting on street corners, huddled in sleeping bags with a hat lying on the floor next to them, a few coppers resting in it.
The homelessness problem in London, let alone England, is staggering. Even on the walk from school to Portsmouth & Southsea station it’s obvious. The number of people rough sleeping in London in 2014/5 was 7,581 and it’s on the rise. Since 2010 the number has doubled, and there’s been a 16% rise in the last year itself. 21% of those people have been sleeping rough for at least three consecutive years, demonstrating not only that the problem is worsening but that there’s been little to no improvement.
Outside of London and across the nation, 112,340 people made a homelessness application in 2015, a 26% rise from 2010. This however doesn’t tell the whole story. In 2016, Homelessness Monitor research reported a total of 275,00 homelessness applications to a local authority, more than double the number from 2015. Homelessness has also risen across individual groups, homelessness amongst young people doubling between 2008 and 2013, with 8% of 16-24 year olds reporting they had recently been homeless.
The horrifyingly high numbers of homeless people juxtaposes dramatically the number of them in a job, with only 2% of homeless people in 2005 being in full time employment. Reports and data gatherings have shown that the majority of homeless people want to be in full time employment, or even hold a job for longer than a few weeks, but the statistics show it just isn’t happening, despite them not being undeserving of one.
All these statistics show how drastic the homelessness problem in our country is but it doesn’t show that these people who are living on the streets aren’t just numbers. They’re real humans beings, just like us, without the privilege and opportunities we have been provided by our parents and school and social class. Every time we discuss the issue of homelessness without discussing the people themselves, we erase them and turn them into stereotypes, degrading their existence. In most cases, homelessness cannot be helped. It’s brought about by a myriad of things, from the breakdowns of relationships to redundancy to family issues to financial matters and it would be near impossible to find, in my opinion, one person in the entirety of England, the world even, who isn’t deserving of a roof over their head.
So, the next time you see someone in a red bib, offering you a magazine, spend the pounds. You’re going back to a bed and food and family when they don’t even have a home. Really, The Big Issue is not a magazine, it’s homelessness itself.