Just a few days before her departure from the Cabinet, Suella Braverman, described rough sleeping as a “lifestyle choice.” We asked Phil Moore, Centre Manager at Lancaster and District Homeless Action Service (LDHAS), for his thoughts. What follows is from Phil.
LDHAS, which has been supporting street homeless and vulnerably housed people for over 30 years, has not found this to be our experience.
The main reasons which contribute to homelessness are poor mental health, substance use, and relationship breakdown, all of which were exacerbated during the covid pandemic and have certainly not improved during the current economic downturn. Added to these factors are the shortage of social housing stock and an increasing number of private landlords leaving the market.
Choosing homelessness as a lifestyle would be a poor choice to make, apart from feeling cold, miserable, isolated, ill, and desperate – life expectancy is also significantly curtailed. Homeless people are more likely to die younger, with an average age of death of 47 years for men and even lower for homeless women at 43, compared with the general population -74 for men and 80 for women. Between March 2020 and March 2023, 31 LDHAS clients died, sadly and ironically, not from Covid but predominantly from drug overdose. This figure includes those who were ‘vulnerably housed’ as well as the street homeless.
We are receiving an increasing number of enquiries from people who are about to be made homeless due significantly to the shrinking private rented sector: 25 per cent of these enquiries are from young women with children who we refer on to the local authority. Due to the shortage of social housing, it is extremely difficult for local authorities to find accommodation for young families and councils across the country are having to resort to using B&Bs and hotels.
Homelessness is certainly something not of their choosing. Homelessness is a national problem as evidenced in numerous reports by Crisis and Shelter amongst others. Many people are only a couple of pay days away from homelessness; it is difficult to imagine that homelessness is a lifestyle choice that they are considering.
Our experience at LDHAS is homeless people just want the same as most of society – to be treated with respect and valued as human beings. That’s what they would choose – not homelessness.