Category Archives: Housing and Homelessness

With Hipster Friends Like @crackandcider Homeless People Don’t Need Enemies

killing-with-kindnessPicture yourself trying to get to sleep on a hard concrete pavement, whilst biting wind and rain swirls around you and the risk of abuse, arrest and even violence is ever present.  Imagine thinking that this could go on for ever, that you have no-one and nothing left, and that only the instinctive fear of death is preventing you from taking that final step.  So you do what half the country does before going to bed.  You have a fucking drink.

This is how a life on the streets begins and as weeks turn into months routines and habits, bad and good, develop.  You might learn where you can get free food, make allegiances, and hopefully genuine friends.  Perhaps you spend a few nights, or even months in a nightshelter or hostel.  Perhaps you get kicked out for breaking one of the endless petty rules like not being back in time for curfew or having a sneaky can of lager.  Or you get beaten up, or piss off someone who might beat you up if you don’t disappear.  Homelessness hostels are strange places, often full of tolerance and even love, but they are not safe spaces.  All it takes is a vindictive charity worker or a violent argument and you can be back on the streets in a heartbeat.

Homelessness strikes when lives fracture, whether due to relationship break up, debt, eviction or domestic abuse.  It often happens to those who have lived through harrowing circumstances – ex-squaddies scarred by war, refugees who have seen loved ones slaughtered,  kids who grew up in care or were abused in the family home.  At the heart of the problem however is money, and a society that values that above all else.  Landlords refusing to accept tenants on benefits, eye-watering deposits to secure even basic accommodation, the chronic lack of social housing and ever more vicious benefit cuts – these are the reasons that street homelessness has risen to record levels over the last five years.

Homelessness endures because the scant social structures in place to prevent it focus on the symptoms – the perceived individual failings of homeless people – not the causes.  Just like Iain Duncan Smith blames unemployed people for a lack of jobs, politicians and the charity bosses who suck up to them for funding blame homeless people themselves for their plight.  To do otherwise would be to acknowledge their own role in creating the homelessness crisis.  That is why in many major cities charities which claim to help homeless people are running anti-begging campaigns to smear them all as drug users or drunks and warning if you give them money you will kill them.

Ask anyone begging what they want, right there and then, and if they are foolish enough to be honest they will say money.  That does’t mean they wouldn’t appreciate a sandwich, a cup of tea or a warm coat as well.  But what they need is cash.  They may want that money for drugs or booze, or they may want it to choose something to eat or wear themselves.  They may be in debt, to someone you really don’t want to be in debt to.  The propaganda on display in anti-begging campaigns insists that street homeless people do nothing but scrounge and shovel drugs down their necks, never stopping to eat, pay hostel service charges, buy a clean pair of socks or get a bus across town.  Yet even the most chaotic substance users still need money for other things as well.  Because they are real people, not grotesque cartoons.

The stark truth is that even someone who does beg to maintain an addiction will not be helped by no-one giving them any money.  They will simply beg for longer to get what they need, whether that’s a bag of smack or three litres of White Lightening.  If the begging is good, and the sun’s out, then once they have that they might beg for something for dinner as well.  Or to be able to have their drink of choice rather than rough cheap cider.  Or to buy their kid they hardly see a birthday present.

If the begging is bad that day then they will sit there all night, or resort to other means to get money such as crime or sex work.  The faster they can meet the needs of their addiction – needs which are real, the street is no place to go cold turkey – the more likely they will have time or money to do other things.  What they are really begging for, in many cases, is a bit of stability.  A drug law reform poster that occassionally appeared on the streets of King’s Cross a couple of decades ago summed it up: “Heroin addiction is not hedonism but constant medication with a very powerful painkiller”.  Until withdrawal symptoms can be medicated away then most people can barely roll a cigarette let alone try to sort their housing out, seek treatment, or get a fucking job.  You are unlikely to kill someone with a drug or alcohol dependency with kindness by giving them a quid as hysterical homelessness charities claim.  You are not prolonging their addiction, only they can do that.  What you might do is give them a bit of space and time to do something else that day other than sit outside a shop doorway and risk arrest by asking people for money.

It is the presumption that homeless people cannot be trusted to be actors in their own lives that reveals the flaws embedded within charity.  To make a decision about what someone needs, whilst ignoring what they tell you they need, makes giving all about the giver not the receiver.  Charity becomes a way for people to feel better about themselves and for the wealthy to erase the guilt that comes from living in such an unequal and fractured society.

Few things expose this self-indulgence better than the horrifyingly named Crack + Cider initiative which was featured in today’s Huffington Post.  This Hackney based pop-up shop was established so that people can help homeless people without worrying whether they will spend the money on alcohol or drugs.  They can do this by donating the price of a coat, pair of gloves or umbrella, which Crack + Cider will then buy and give to a homelessness charity.  And then it will probably sit in a store room for the next decade along with all the rest of the tat that arrives in charity fundraising offices that they have neither the resources or the will to distribute.

There is of course nothing wrong with buying a homeless person a coat.  You can do that very easily without the act being mediated by charity.  Go into a shop, buy a coat, give it to a homeless person.  Fucking simples.  Or join up with #opsafewinter who distribute supplies to homeless people directly.

What is wrong with Crack and Cider, apart from the obvious, is that this is not a project designed to help homeless people, but to help the urban middle classes feel better about homelessness.  It does this by not only re-inforcing prejudices people feel towards the homeless, but also allowing them to buy their way out of any sense of personal responsibility for the problem.  After all, there might be a poor person walking round now in a coat they paid for. If homeless people are still homeless after that kind of lavish generosity then they only have themselves to blame.  Serves them right anyway for taking all those drugs.

In a gushing press release those behind the shop  warn that even Kensington and Chelsea council say “giving to rough sleepers contributes to their early death”.  There is no evidence that this is true because this is a political lie, used by a Tory council to justify forcing beggars out of one of London’s richest boroughs rather than providing the homes and services they need.   A borough that could soon be selling off up to 97% of their socially rented homes.  Better to blame people hooked on Special Brew for the homelessness this will cause than the Tory government’s housing policy.

There is no doubt those behind Crack + Cider are trying to be well-meaning – they are not taking any money from the project.  The name they say is merely intended to stimulate a conversation about homelessness in that kind of wacky and ironic way that normal people who don’t live in Hoxton probably don’t understand.  They say it was inspired by a beggar telling them that people didn’t give them money because they thought they’d spend it all on crack and cider.  “Oh yah, that’s what we think too” they no doubt decided.  Let’s set up a shop and call it something edgy.  And so homelessness, as far as coat-buying Hackney hipsters are concerned, is sorted.  Meanwhile down the road a beggar just got stabbed because they tried to pay off a drug debt with a pair of gloves and a fucking umbrella.

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Never Trust A Landlord. How Housing Associations Are Teaming Up With The Workfare Industry

workfare-gravy-train-largeThe National Housing Federation (NHF), the umbrella body which represents housing associations, are quietly teaming up with the fraud-ridden welfare-to-work sector in a bid to monetize ‘workless’ tenants in social housing.

Tomorrow the NHF will hold a joint event with the notorious Employment Related Services Association (ERSA), the trade organisation established to lie on behalf of the welfare-to-work industry.   The Housing and Employment Forum will allow housing associations to discuss how they can further collaborate with sanction-happy workfare exploiters like G4S, Serco and the shadowy US conglomerate Maximus.  To look at the website of the National Housing Federation however you would never know this event is happening, despite them being the joint organisers and chairs.  They are right to be ashamed of their dirty little workfare secrets.

ERSA themselves are also remaining tight-lipped about the forum which is only open to ERSA members and details of which – such as where it is – are not available.  Claimants and housing association tenants themselves are obviously not welcome.

Several housing associations already hold Work Programme sub-contracts, although many pulled out when they realised that they weren’t making enough money out of the mandatory scheme.  In a renewed effort to get their snouts in the welfare-to-work trough they are now not just sucking up to ERSA but also lobbying the DWP directly to get their hands on some of the workfare cash.  Over 40 housing associations are now members of the Give Us A Chance (GUAC) consortium which was formed in 2011 to try and hoodwink the government into giving them some juicy welfare-to-work contracts.  The Give Us Some Money consortium would be a more accurate name.

According to their literature, GUAC are being advised by Jonathan Shaw, the former Labour Minister for Disabled People who helped oversee the introduction of the despised Atos fitness for work tests.  Housing Associations who join GUAC are also being offered free automatic membership of ERSA.  They have even released a joint manifesto (pdf) with the workfare industry in which they ominously call for more data sharing powers between social housing providers, Work Programme companies and Jobcentres.  Who better than a landlord to be the ever-watching eyes of the DWP.

Don’t be in any doubt that this is about anything other than fucking money.  It’s not like housing association tenants are crying out for more CV workshops or mandatory work placements.  Billions of pounds is being doled out by the DWP to organisations prepared to bully and harass unemployed people and housing associations have no intention of missing the gravy train.  Don’t expect them to actually build any houses with all this cash though.  Those six figure Chief Executive salaries won’t pay themselves you know.

Above pic from the SchNews archive.

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Fixing Poverty Is Simple: Poor People Need More Money and Homeless People Need Homes


In the UK today the poor are a commodity and poverty is big business.  That’s why the homelessness industry can afford conferences in luxury hotels, with slap up meals and drinks receptions.  It’s why charity chief executives earn such eye-watering sums, or business empires like the Big Issue can be built beneath a charity facade.  And these are the fuckers who are supposed to be helping.  Alongside them lie the vultures of the welfare-to-work companies like Serco and G4S – a £20 billion industry designed to punish the poor with benefit sanctions and forced work schemes.

At no point in this elaborate system of so-called support, incentives and sanctions will the people who are poor be given what they need – which is more money.  In fact much of the help is designed to do the opposite as it attempts to  create behavior change by inflicting more poverty.  Benfits are cut to ‘incentivise’ people to find a job whilst charities run advertising campains further stigmatising beggars to encourage them not to be homeless.  Other anti-poverty organisations demand that the price of cheap alcohol is raised to stop people being alcoholics and call for bans on handing out free food to make life difficult for those on the streets.  As these demands grow ever more shrill, the number of genuinely affordable homes and jobs that pay an adequate income shrink, alongside already meagre benefit payments. Yet because of the wonderful support the poor are offered – and all that money being spent – when people keep getting poorer then frankly, even most charity bosses think, it’s probably their own fault.

It is fucking grotesque.  What poor people need is more money and what homeless people need is homes.  As well as being glaringly obvious, this is also what the evidence shows.  A study was featured in the Washington Post this week which tracked the personalities of 1,420 low income children in North Carolina over a period of 20 years.  By pure chance during this period about a quarter of the children’s families received a windfall due to being part of a Native American tribe whose land had been used to host a casino.  This led to the families receiving annual payments of around $4000 and meant that the researchers could measure the impact of this small rise in income on the children’s personalities.  The results were clear – according to the researchers “there are large beneficial effects of improved household financial wellbeing on children’s emotional and behavioral health and positive personality trait development.”

The study also found that relationships between parents improved, family arguments decreased, and siginifcantly parents who had more money tended to use drugs and alcohol less.

Back in the UK, in 2010 the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, an anti-poverty think tank, carried out an experiment with some of the ‘hardest to help’ rough sleepers.  What they did was simple; they identified 15 people who had been sleeping on the streets for a minimum of fours years, they asked them what they needed and then they bought it for them.  Seven of the original fifteen had moved into stable accommodation when the project was evaluated with two more making plans to pove off the streets.  Some participants reported improved mental and physical health, and several said their drinking had reduced.  Three people started educational courses whilst the one individual involved who had a serious drug problem had begun treatment and was on a methadone programme.  Despite the success of this approach it has not been adopted by the UK’s homelessness industry.

Something else which remains largely ignored in UK housing policy is the success of the Housing First scheme at reducing homelessness in the US.   This model simply acknowledges that homeless people need to be given a home before other issues such as substance misuse, unemployment or mental health are addressed.  This approach has been successful in cutting homelessness amongst US army veterans by 30%.  A small pilot project is now being carried out along these lines in the UK, but don’t expect significant change yet.  Much of the homelessness industry still believes that homeless people need to be somehow ‘fixed’ with an approach that dangles the possibility of secure housing at some distant point in the future as a reward for good behavior whilst arresting people in the present if they sleep rough in city centres.

This weekend World Homeless Action Day will feature two events in the UK aiming to promote the Housing First model and protest against the growing criminalisation of homeless people.  In Manchester campaigners are organising a sleep out on Saturday night (10 October) to raise awareness of the problems facing homeless people in the city.  In London there will be speakers and music outside Euston Station on the same night before activists head out on mass into the city to distribute food and supplies to the homeless.  Other events are also planned, please share the facebook page, spread the word and come if you can.

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A Tale of Two Cities. How London Is More Divided Than Ever Before.

simon-jenkinsRarely has London been so divided.  The fracture in UK politics – where the Tories are despised in the North, Scotland and Wales but rule anyway – cuts through the heart of the capital city.  Here the poor and the rich often live alongside each other, and walk the same streets, but they might as well be in different cities.  And whilst those with nothing cannot fail to notice the gleaming new skyscrapers, the wealthy cannot the see the lives of the poor.  We are just tenants to them, or low paid skivvies, here to clean up their shit and fatten their wallets.  Not worth talking to, or thinking too much about.

So it is no surprise at all that a fucking toff like Simon Jenkins – ex-public school then Oxbridge of course, and now a columnist for both the Evening Standard and The Guardian – should be so blisteringly out of touch that he can declare that London’s housing crisis is a myth.  That’s all you need to know by the way, you don’t have to read his shit.  Jenkins, who lives in a plush Kensington & Chelsea house and reportedly owns another property, thinks everything’s just fine and the poor should stop whining and live in sheds.  Or move to Salford where that £65,000 they’ve probably got kicking around in a savings account somewhere will buy them a home.  Or some such bollocks.

To the pampered rich, money doesn’t run out and poverty is really beyond their comprehension.  They have no knowledge of the small, but never ending depravations that fill up the lives of the poor.  They have no way of imagining what’s it’s like to be sucked dry of what little you have by pre-pay electric metres, benefit sanctions, travel costs, loan sharks or rent increases.  They have never experienced the debilitating panic that devours the body and mind when you receive an eviction notice, or your hours are cut, or you get a brown letter from the DWP calling you in for a benefit assessment.  If the rich are hungry they eat, if they are cold they put the heating on, and if their kids need shoes they buy them some, without a second thought.

In the absence of any real experience of how many people live, all the privileged like Jenkins have to go on is cold statistics.  That’s why he says the only priority for housing policy should be addressing the 60,000 families in temporary accommodation, with everybody else abandoned to market forces.  He probably doesn’t even know that those 60,000 families only represent a fraction of the true number of homeless people.  It doesn’t even include people living on the street, or in fact anyone at all without chldren unless they have a significant health condition.  Neither does it consider the hundreds of thousands of kids growing up in social housing who will not be able to afford to live in London when they are old.  Or the growing number of people in their 40s and 50s who are renting privately and will never know what it is like to have a secure place to live – and who face a bleak future in retirement when they are dependent on Housing Benefit to pay the rent.  Whilst every measure of homelessness is rising sharply, it is not just those without a roof who are suffering from the housing crisis.

When something directly affects the rich however, even in the most trivial way, we never fucking stop hearing about it.  In 2013 Jenkins wrote a breath-taking piece for the Evening Standard declaring that the only real housing crisis in London was that the opulent West London streets he lives in are becoming a ‘peculiar’  and ‘eerie’ due to the number of homes bought as investments and left empty.  This is a terrible thing whines Jenkins, whilst condemning everyone else’s housing concerns as hysterical.  After all you can still buy a flat in Camden for less than £300,000.  Except you can’t.

London is now two cities, a fantasy world for the rich and an economic torture chamber for the poor.  And someone living in a fantasy can never understand the rage of those being quietly exploited, or expelled.  Just look at the acres of newsprint devoted to some paint on a cereal cafe whilst the desperate stories of social cleansing go almost untold.  It’s news when the powerless fight back but  only when there is a minor inconvenience to the cosseted business class.  They are so astounded by our anger that they think it’s unreasonable.  Why don’t we just have a crêpe and a latte or something and calm down.  Or spend a fiver on a bowl of cereal.  For heaven’s sake poor people, you might spoil Disneyland.  Indeed we fucking might.   In fact we intend to.

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Begging Is A Lifestyle Choice Says Leeds Councillor As Homelessness Charities Launch The Nastiest Campaign Yet


Leeds City Council have teamed up with the police and so-called charities, to come up with the nastiest campaign yet aimed at discouraging the public from giving a bit of spare change to homeless people.

The above poster has been placed at key sites across the city warning people not to give money to beggars because it may help fuel their addictions.  As ever the homelessness industry demands that people give the money to them instead so they can spend it on drink soaked conferences in posh hotels that cost £700 quid a ticket.

No thought at all seems to have been given about how this campaign will further stigmatise homeless people who already often face abuse and even violence from some members of the public. Those attacks will now be more likely as homeless people are smeared as addicts or drunks by the very organisations that claim to be on their side.  The dehumanisation of the very poorest is no longer just coming from the pages of the right wing press.

The truth is that the homelessness industry’s own figures show that only around half of street homeless people have a drink or drug problem.  And even these people still need to eat.  All that campaigns like these achieve – if they are successful – is that homeless people who do have drug or alcohol dependencies are forced to beg for longer.  No-one is going to give up smack because some bunch of fucking idiots have put a few posters on the walls after all.  Meanwhile those forced to beg because their benefits have been sanctioned are left to go hungry.  But then this is just a lifestyle choice according to Leeds Labour Councillor Mark Dobson.

What people in poverty need is more money, however it comes   There is plenty of research which shows this.  Yet this research is repeatedly ignored, not just by politicians obsessed with cutting benefits, but also by charities whose bosses are currently doing very well out of poverty and homelessness.  To attempt to smear and impoverish one of the most marginalised groups in society with campaigns like this is bad enough.  To do it to further line the pockets of overpaid charity chief executives is beneath contempt.

This is far from the first initiative aimed at stopping the public helping homeless people directly, but it is one of the most of unpleasant.  Luckily it has been a dismal failure, with just £50 raised according to the justgiving website. The people of Leeds have shown they are better than this.  It’s time these organisations realise that if they continue to attack homeless people then they won’t see a fucking penny of our money.  Give a beggar a quid instead.  At least you know it won’t be spent on campaigns like this.

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Over 90,000 Children Now In Temporary Accommodation As The Homelessness Epidemic Gets Even Worse

homeless-march1There are now over 90,000 children living in temporary accommodation according to the latest official statistics – a rise of over 15% in just one year.

The number of these families living in B&Bs – which usually just means one room, often with shared facilities – has leapt by a shocking 35% compared to a year earlier.  990 of these families had been living in this kind of accommodation for over six weeks, over double the number from the same period last year.

Every measure of homelessness has risen according to the latest statistics, with 13,520 households accepted as homeless by Local Authorities between January and March 2015, a jump of 8% on a year earler.

The main reason for families becoming homeless was the loss of an assured tenancy with a private sector landlord.  Soaring rents, stagnant wages and shrinking benefits – combined with a barely regulated private rental sector where landlords can evict on a whim – is driving the homelessness epidemic as many people can simply no longer afford to pay their rent.

This week’s figures only represent a very small sample of the true number of homeless people in the UK.  Only those legally eligible for help from local authorites are included, which in practice means only those with children, significant disabilities or health problems and people over pensionable age.  Homelessness charities have warned that this measure only shows the tip of the iceberg of even these groups as recent changes to the law mean families fobbed off into insecure private rented accommodation by councils are no longer included in the figures.

A recent report found that rents have risen by 10% in the last year, and that’s across the UK, not just in London.  George Osborne has already pegged rises in Housing Benefits at just 1%.  The impacts of the Bedroom Tax and first Benefit Cap have still not been fully felt as local authorities have used Discretionary Housing Payments to top up Housing Benefits.  These payments will soon come to an end.  The number of houses built at a social rent, meaning they are genuinely affordable to low income families, fell to the lowest level in the history of council housing in 2013/14.

A perfect storm has already been created and we have not yet seen anything like the worst of it.  The full impact of Iain Duncan Smith’s bungled welfare reforms have not yet been fully felt according to managers of homelessness services in local councils when questioned by homelessness charities last year (PDF).

But even this will just be the beginning.  The government have already pledged a lower Benefit Cap, which will leave almost the entire private rented sector in the south of England unaffordable for out of work families.  Tens of thousands of people in social housing will also be affected, particularly larger families who will have nowhere they can afford to go.  Osbourne is also likely to scrap housing benefit completely for those under 21, whilst a mass sell off of housing association properties is also on the cards.  And that’s just what we know about.  Billions more is set to be cut from the social security budget, and however the Chancellor does that it will mean many people can no longer afford to stay in their home.

Disabled People Against Cuts have already called a protest outside next week’s budget.  Everyone who cares about having somewhere to live over the next few years should join them and say #balls2thebudget.  Please join, share and tweet the facebook page for the event:

You can read the latest homelessness statistics at:

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Shameless: Charity Bosses To Gather In Luxury Hotel For £715 Homelessness Conference

£715 will pay for a room for a charity chief executive in a top hotel for just one night.  Please give generously.

Sponsor a room. Just £715 will pay for for a charity chief executive to stay in a top hotel for two nights. Please give generously. You fucking mug.

Charity Chief Executives and so-called housing experts are gearing up for this year’s homelessness industry conference which is due to be held at a four star hotel with ticket prices as high as £715!

Next month’s Under One Roof conference is organised by charity umbrella body Homeless Link and provides a chance for homelessness experts to talk about homeless people without any actual homeless people being present.  This year’s swanky bash is being held at the Hinckley Island Hotel in Leicestershire where according to Homeless Link  “Delegates staying overnight are also entitled to complimentary use of the leisure club facilities, which include a heated indoor swimming pool, fully equipped gym, sauna, spa, steam room and solarium.”

Were somebody who is homeless wishing to access this event they would be forced to pay the non-member rate of £320 just for one day, and they don’t even get to stay in the hotel for that.  For the entire two days, plus accommodation, then the bill rises to over £700 – around ten times  the weekly Jobseeker’s Allowance payment many homeless people survive on.  Homelessless charities who run hostels evict residents for running up smaller service charge arrears than that every day of the week.

When not swanning around by the pool, or enjoying the promised slap up meal, delegates to this year’s conference will attend workshops held by ‘industry experts’.  Experts like Jeremy ‘send ’em back’ Swain of charity Thamesreach who will lead a discussion on whether it is ‘counter-productive’ to carry on working with destitute migrants.

Other hot topics will include, predictably, fundraising, crowdsourcing, and “how to pool resources to enable you to bid for contracts that would otherwise be out of reach”.  Those four star hotel bills won’t pay themselves you know.

It will not be front line homelessness workers attending this event of course, but middle managers, ‘professionals’ and charity bosses – the kind of people who could afford to pay for their own fucking hotel.  Instead well meaning charity donors, homeless hostel residents and of course tax payers, will fund this lavish and drink-soaked skive.  And drink-soaked it will be, after the arduous day of workshops the organisers promise a drinks reception, followed by a conference dinner – with entertainment provided by a top magician (perhaps he can magic up some fucking housing) – and then another drinks reception.  These are the same charities that run nasty campaigns telling people not to give money to homeless beggars because they will only spend it on booze or drugs.  Give your spare change to a homelessness charity instead they say, so highly paid Chief Executives can spend it on fine wine, magicians  and posh hotels.

Apologies for the slow down in posts.  Things might remain a bit sporadic here until September when a shit storm is coming.

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