Euston station may become a homeless shelter on Christmas Day, but the underlying issues of homelessness need to be addressed.
It was encouraging to read news this week that Euston station in London will open up as a shelter for hundreds of homeless people on Christmas Day, with volunteers from two homelessness charities, St Mungo’s and Streets Kitchen, as well as Network Rail, pledging to serve the festive lunch and manage set up and clearance afterwards. The question on my mind and no doubt the minds of others, is could this be replicated by other stations up and down the country and not just in London?
According to the National Audit Office, there has been a 60% rise in households living in temporary accommodation – which includes 120,540 children – since 2010/11. A snapshot overnight count last autumn found there were 4,134 rough sleepers – an increase of 134%.
People who are homeless are not a distinct and separate population. In fact the line between being homeless and not being so is quite fine. In general, the pathways into and out of homelessness are neither linear nor uniform. Individuals and families who wind up homeless may not share much in common with each other, apart from the fact that they are extremely vulnerable, and lack adequate housing and income and the necessary supports to ensure they stay housed. The causes of homelessness reflect an intricate interplay between structural factors, systems failures and individual circumstances. Homelessness is usually the result of the cumulative impact of a number of factors, rather than a single cause. And it is that underlying cause(s) that need urgent attention.
I hope that the Euston station Christmas shelter casts a light on this. Arguably, the most impactful factor is the lack of affordable housing nationwide. However, discrimination can impede access to employment, housing, justice and helpful services. Racial and sexual minorities are at greater risk of such discrimination.
Systems failures occur when other systems of care and support fail, requiring vulnerable people to turn to the homelessness sector,. Examples of systems failures include difficult transitions from child welfare, inadequate discharge planning for people leaving hospitals, corrections and mental health and addictions facilities and a lack of support for immigrants and refugees. I know that the Homelessness Reduction Act is due to come into force in April 2018 but the question everyone is asking is will it make any difference?
What, I ask myself can businesses do?
Removing the barriers to employment and ensuring your business is not a trigger to poverty, debt and eventual loss of housing, are important long-term steps. In the short-term, businesses must consider what resources they have which could support the homeless, be that warm, dry, indoor space, precisely the action undertaken by Network Rail at Euston Station this month.
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