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Homelessness, Let’s Talk About It

To know the exact number of homeless persons at any time remains a challenge. Estimations indicate that there are plenty more than most people believe. As of February 2021, the Leicestershire area recorded a rough approximation of about 3000 individuals sleeping in poor conditions and without a home.[1] Homelessness is an imperative issue and more importantly, the role of the Law plays a vital part in how the public stigma around homelessness develops. The existence of many anti-homeless laws poses a concerning problem for many homeless individuals. These persons often find themselves susceptible to arrest for sitting or lingering in a public space for an extended period.[2] These types of laws aid in keeping homeless persons ‘out of sight’.[3] To neutralise negative sentiments regarding the homeless, experts suggest campaigning and vast public education efforts aiming for stronger housing policies to help more homeless individuals get off the streets.[4] Housing remains a fundamental first step, and it’s important to provide these persons with access to a home.


One of the most significant developments to homelessness legislation in England in the last 40 years was the establishment of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 (HRA).[5] The Act has allowed a growing number of people receive support with homelessness. Prior to this, individuals were turned away before they were offered any sort of assistance.[6] The law in England, before the Act, barred single homeless people from obtaining help from their councils because they were seen as a low priority.[7] It is worth noting that this proves to be disastrous for people facing homelessness, and the prospect for them continuing to lock themselves inside the cycle increases. Positive legislation designated towards homelessness remains a vital support system for individuals who are faced with homelessness. The HRA has also mandated access to housing options and advisory services from local councils. Section 2(1) of the HRA provides that, “each local housing authority in England must provide or secure the provision of a service, available free of charge to any person in the authority’s district.”[8] As a result, the Leicester City Council has implemented a homelessness strategy that continues to help keep people from becoming homeless, by continuing to focus on preventing homelessness and breaking the cycle of homelessness.[9]


Social initiative groups are also encouraged by the legislation. Groups like Action Homeless, who commit themselves to improving the lives of homeless persons in the Leicestershire area, note that they continuously work together with its statutory partners in identifying appropriate areas of support for the homeless. It is encouraging to see that steps have been taken to apply the legislation and provide increased support for persons who find themselves living in rough conditions. As mentioned earlier, education and acts of public advocacy help neutralise the public’s perception of the homeless and homelessness in general. The University of Leicester Pro Bono Society’s, Project Light initiative launched a successful winter shoe box drive, in early December, for Help the Homeless, a charity that is dedicated to transforming lives by fighting to eradicate rough sleeping and homelessness within the city. Simple initiatives like this assist in helping serve a community that doesn’t deserve to be ignored. It’s important to keep the dialogue open, and that starts by just talking about it.


NB: There is a well-produced social and cultural documentary on Netflix around poignant stories of homelessness, called Lead Me Home, which offers a perspective on the issue from the West Coast of the US. It is worth checking out!


 

[1] Emmaus, ‘Annual Rough Sleeping Snapshot’ (Emmaus, 2021) < https://emmaus.org.uk/leicestershire-rutland/annual-rough-sleeping-snapshot/> accessed 14 December 2021 [2] Psychology Today, ‘Why Is Homelessness So Stigmatized?’ (Psychology Today, 2021) < https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/media-spotlight/202106/why-is-homelessness-so-stigmatized> [3] Ibid [4] Ibid [5] Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 [6] Crisis, ‘Can The Homelessness Reduction Act Help Stem The Tide Of Homelessness?’ (Crisis, 2020) < https://www.crisis.org.uk/about-us/the-crisis-blog/how-can-the-homelessness-reduction-act-help-stem-the-tide-of-homelessness/> [7] Gousey, Hannah, ‘No One Turned Away’ (2016) London: Crisis [8] Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 [9] www.leicester.gov.uk

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