There’s been a fair amount of talk recently about how various architectural features are “anti-homelessness”. This has lead on to discussion of various laws and practices in the UK and beyond that are “anti-homelessness” and how awful this is and how the world should just be less shit already. This is good and worthy discussion BUT one important thing to remember: these architectural design features, laws and practices are NOT “anti-homelessness”. What they are is anti- homeless PEOPLE. Ridding the public sphere of safe-ish, dry-ish places to lie down and sleep outside will not getting rid of homelessness. Making begging illegal does not get rid of homelessness. Tying most social security, employment opportunities, bank accounts, GPs, forms of ID and other vital services to “having a permanent address” does not get rid of homelessness. All this does is make being homeless less visible, less safe, less escapable and, to be quite blunt, less SURVIVABLE. All this does is condemn people who are vulnerable and have already suffered great misfortune to more suffering – and force them to take their suffering elsewhere so those of us fortunate enough to currently have somewhere warm, dry and relatively safe to live can go about our days without seeing people who are homeless.
So, what would it actually mean to be “Anti-Homelessness”?
I am against homelessness. I believe that safe, warm, dry homes should be available to *everyone* who needs them. I do not think it should even be possible for a person to find themself without somewhere to sleep, eat and socialise. Everyone should have a home.
There is only one long-term solution to homelessness that has any chance of actually working. It’s breathtakingly simple and obvious – and could realistically be implemented in the UK within the year if people wanted it enough.
GIVE PEOPLE HOMES.
There are enough empty buildings to house everyone. If everyone had somewhere to live, some space that was theirs where they could sleep and eat and work and play, no one would be homeless.
Note that I have not said “Sell people homes” or “Let people homes” or mentioned the word “affordable” even once. If we really took the idea that shelter, safety, privacy and family life are human rights seriously, people would be given somewhere safe to live for free. No rents, no mortgages, no “but do you have a local connection and also do you really need a home?”, no “but why can’t you just live with your parents well into your thirties?”.
I know a lot of people would find this unfair and claim that the years they spent renting / paying a mortgage / buying and letting houses / inheriting multiple houses from their Dad means that they somehow “deserve” a place to live more than other people who didn’t or couldn’t do that. I see why they might feel cheated but ultimately I disagree. Somewhere safe and stable to live and a bit of space for yourself is not a luxury that you can “deserve” any more or less than anyone else and it shouldn’t be something you have to buy – it shouldn’t be something you can lose in the first place. There should be homes for all. We all deserve somewhere to live.
That is how you end homelessness. Until the only condition required for safe, decent housing is “be a person” there will be people who cannot meet the required conditions and find themselves homeless through misfortune.