No-one deserves to be homeless

Homeless edinburgh crop

​Paul Stevenson of Bethany Christian Trust says legislation must be enacted to help people exit the street

20th December 2017 by TFN 0 Comments

There is a myth that prevails within society today. It is the myth of the undeserving poor.

It’s prevalent in how legislation is practiced and it’s ingrained in the mindset of many. It draws a line between those who are “deserving” and those who are not.

New research from Shelter shows that more than 300,000 people are recorded as homeless in Britain (one in 200 of the population).

As demand outstrips housing supply, many people presenting to their local council are being declared “intentionally homeless”.

paul Stevenson

paul Stevenson

Nobody should be homeless, nobody should be given just one chance in life and nobody should have to sleep on the streets of this country

Duty discharge letters relinquish the council’s responsibility for individuals. Those who fail the test to give them access to temporary accommodation are sentenced to rough sleeping on the streets of our country.

The “intentionally homeless” are those who have done something that they knew would lead to them becoming homeless.

This could include an eviction for antisocial behaviour, judging that they didn’t pay the rent or mortgage when they could have or ignoring advice that could have helped them keep their home.

According to guidance for local authorities (2017), there remains a legal duty for them to provide temporary accommodation for a reasonable period of time to people deemed intentionally homeless. This is something rarely exercised.

Nobody should be homeless, nobody should be given just one chance in life and nobody should have to sleep on the streets of this country.

Even if an individual is declared unintentionally homeless and therefore “deserving”, they face the final test. The person must have a local connection.

Normally you must have lived in the area for six of the last 12 months, or three of the last five years.

Unfortunately time spent sleeping rough or using winter shelters rarely qualifies for local connection. This rule means people on our streets are restricted in accessing temporary accommodation and receiving support, which for many is a lifeline.

Tonight in Scotland there are people fleeing their place of connection, in a crisis of homelessness in which they are not supported by the country they live in.

They are judged to be undeserving and are abandoned. The policy exists as a massive barrier to people exiting the street.

The Homelessness (Scotland) Act 2003 enables Scottish ministers to suspend the local connection test. As yet, no steps have been made towards suspension. The continued enacting of blanket policies divides the “deserving” from the “undeserving”.

It’s good for people to appeal decisions so they can remain in temporary accommodation throughout the process.

However, all too often decisions are upheld. Temporary accommodation spaces are then created for the next individual whose case is being reviewed or for the “deserving poor” who the councils accept as their duty to house. The system can work for those who are in it. The problem is unlocking the door to enter in to it.

Bethany Christian Trust believes nobody is undeserving.

This year, like every other year, Christians will celebrate the birth of Jesus – a man who made no distinctions between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. A man who was fair and treated the poor with dignity and respect. There are no undeserving poor.

Everyone sleeping on our streets is deserving of something and it’s more than a cup of tea… it’s a home.

Paul Stevenson is group head of community support and development at Bethany Christian Trust.