Anyone walking from university into town would struggle to miss the homeless scattered along the street. It becomes an especially noticeable problem when the cold winter months remind people of just how hard it must be for rough sleepers to sleep on the street during freezing conditions, unaware of when the next hot meal might come.
On one night in November last year, 33 rough sleepers were counted in Leeds, but the Council knows of up to 130 people who sleep rough at some point. Other problems related to homelessness have been on the rise, including the number of cases of misuse of the drug spice, which increased from 16 in September 2017 to 66 in July 2018.
Homelessness is not necessarily defined as the traditional view of not having a home to live in, visiting shelters and living rough. Invisible homelessness is on the rise, which applies to other groups of people, such as young people sofa-surfing or whole families living in the spare bedrooms of friends. This means firm statistics are always hard to establish.
Leeds Council has drafted a new plan to help eradicate homelessness in the city after the Government established its own strategy last summer to halve rough sleeping by 2022. The initiative is based around both support and prevention for the homeless. The council is aiming to have 14 rough sleepers by next year and just eight by 2022. This seems to be an incredibly optimistic goal, with much to be done to improve quality of life and prevent further homelessness. The Council has decided to place a significant emphasis on mental health and addiction treatment.
However, while mental health and addiction issues are common problems for the homeless, they may not necessarily be causes, as some find these arise whilst out on the street. Homelessness can be an incredibly difficult cycle to break out of, with the homeless often being portrayed as lazy or their situation being their own fault. A large proportion of homeless people find themselves in their situation due to a relationship breakdown, meaning anybody could become homeless.
It is thought that, after just a few weeks of being homeless, people become engrained in the cycle and used to the street community, making it harder to leave the street.
There are many successful charities in Leeds that offer support to the homeless, like Emmaus, Leeds Housing Concern, Simon On the Streets and St George’s Crypt. Students can even join the Union’s volunteering society Homed. These charities work to make day to day life easier for the homeless, but also to offer support and attempt to build a relationship with rough sleepers, who can trust and rely on the charity workers.
This work is invaluable to helping the homeless with things that quickly fall away in their lives like encouraging access to healthcare.
Anyone can help the homeless, whether that involves making sandwich runs, fundraising, or working to break the stigma surrounding people who have lost everything.
So far, not enough is being done to help those living on the streets, especially during the cold winter months that make life even harder and more dangerous.
Some progress has been made, but a huge amount more needs to be carried out to enable further counselling and help for the homeless, as well as reducing the stigma attached to homelessness. Much more must be done to support the most vulnerable homeless, including young people, LGBTQ+ people, domestic violence victims, asylum seekers and refugees. We can all do more to help our community and to help those that have fallen on hard times and had to resort to a last option.