Susan Sadler has been in and out of homelessness since 2007, when her husband passed away. The 61-year-old from Coventry has been couch surfing, slept at a police station for three weeks and spent time in temporary housing.
Three years ago, she found herself at risk of losing her last social housing home, just when she needed it most.
“I had breast cancer, lost my job as a care worker and ended up paying rent arrears, so the board was going to fire me,” she says.
“It’s a scary situation to be in because you don’t know where to turn.”
Susan’s story isn’t just an illustration of how easy it is to slip into homelessness. It also shows that there are simple ways to tackle what has become a problem for huge numbers in our society.
a growing problem
Charity Shelter Housing Government statistics say one in 206 people in England does not currently have a home. The real number is likely to be higher because only those in contact with local authorities are officially reported.
There is evidence that the situation is getting worse. New analysis from another charity, Single Homeless Project, shows that the number of new homeless people in London has risen by nearly a third (32%) in the past two years.
They noted that the jump would likely have been greater had it not been for epidemic protection measures such as the temporary ban on evictions that were in place for large parts of 2021.
When threatened with eviction, faced with an uncertain future and financial hardship, Susan was unable to afford mobile data.
“My phone bill was going up because I was using the internet so much – it was blackmail,” she explains.
The charity crisis helped her by giving her a tablet, with data paid up front, so she could access online forms for her benefits, her bank account and — during the pandemic — attend Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings about her housing options.
This was all easier to do and more clearly visible on a tablet. In partnership with Tesco Mobile, Crisis has now distributed 1,115 devices and SIM cards preloaded with 12 months of data and minutes to people, like Susan, who are experiencing homelessness across the country. “The tablet made it so much cheaper. I was also able to use the zoom feature with family and friends – which makes me feel more connected,” says Susan. me.
With the support of the charity, she was able to avoid eviction and homelessness again.
Without this help, it would have been a completely different story. You cannot work in the modern world without access to the Internet.
Chris Hancock, director of Crisis Service, has worked with homeless people for 20 years, and says the basics, like owning a tablet
Or a smartphone with data, it’s getting more and more difficult. “Everything – whether someone is in or out of business – depends on this,” he says.
“When I first started working in this sector, I worked for local authorities in London and Devon. We had good links with local libraries, which provided space and capacity for homeless people to use their computers.
But those services have been significantly reduced, so it is now important for people to have their own devices.”
Charity fills the void left by the state. Some companies are starting to help, too.
Historically, the lack of a fixed address has been a barrier for homeless people who want to open bank accounts to hold and spend money received from work or benefits.
However, in 2019, HSBC launched the No Fixed Address service in partnership with both Shelter and Crisis. It helps people without a fixed home address open a bank account and says more than 1,700 have done so so far.
These programs are vital, Hancock says, because “digital inclusion is a core and homeless requirement
People need the same things as everyone else.” But it is not enough, he adds: “We still need a common approach that normalizes access to housing.”
A real lifeline
Michelle Howell, 42, and her partner Trevor Bourne, 50, have lived at Sovereign Housing First in Thiel, near Reading, for more than a year.
Prior to that, Trevor was homeless and living on the streets for five years while dealing with addiction issues.
Michelle, who lost her apartment from the housing association due to drug addiction and rent arrears, has been homeless for six months.
They say they wouldn’t be able to get their lives back on track without a home from which to build their lives.
“People need basic things — like a home and the internet — or they can’t help themselves,” Trevor says. me.
“In the shutdown, the libraries weren’t open so you couldn’t use their computers. You need to be online to get into your global credit journal, otherwise you
Without the dominion scheme – which so far includes 32 people – the couple would not have been able to “stand on our feet”, Michelle says.
“Our private address makes us feel safe and secure,” she said.
“It means we can properly think about everything else – quitting smoking, how to get our benefits and doctor’s surgery. All of those things that are blocked when you are homeless.”
And he has a turnkey solution — known as housing first — in mind.
The premise is simple: you immediately house the homeless, regardless of their needs. No caveats: No morals about drinking or taking drugs, they weren’t told they needed to get it
A job before they qualify for support – they are simply given a home in addition to any treatment or support they need.
This approach was originally developed in the early 1990s by Dr. Sam Timbers, at Pathways to Housing in New York, to help rough sleepers with mental health issues.
It has evolved since then. Housing First is now also used with families and homeless youth in North America.
In Finland, street homelessness has been virtually eliminated through the Housing First Program. Mr. Hancock wants to see the same thing happen here.
“The only way to satisfy the need for housing is to give people their own home,”
“We need a more housing-based approach where we take housing principles first and extend them beyond those with complex needs.”
Sovereign – the largest housing association in southern England – currently operates the Housing First scheme in partnership with Two Saints, a homeless support group, and West Berkshire Council.
The government has signed off on the idea – in principle, at least: The 2019 Conservative general election manifesto promised to “eradicate the scourge of violent sleep by the end of the next Parliament by expanding successful pilots and programs such as the Rough Sleeping Initiative and Housing First”.
The government’s “everyone in” scheme, which was introduced during the first lockdown, to house all people sleeping in harsh conditions, was based on the same principle and demonstrated what is possible.
But it has since been eradicated. And unlike in Scotland, where the £6.5m funding saw housing provided first by local authorities, there is still no national commitment to fund this approach in England.