This year Shelter, one of the UK’s leading housing charities, turns 50. Back in 1966 Britain was in the grip of a housing crisis with millions living in slum conditions with no protection from landlords. Shelter was formed in response to this crisis, advocating on behalf of the homeless and tenants living in awful housing conditions. Since then Shelter has worked tirelessly, to improve lives and to influence policy making.
50 years on and Britain is in the grips of another housing crisis, and the work of organisations like Shelter is as vital as ever. Many people associate homelessness with the rough sleepers we see every day on our streets, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Today in fact, 81,000 households were found to be homeless in England alone, the vast majority of which simply have no fixed address. Waiting lists for social housing are only getting longer as the government is consistently failing to build even half of the estimated 240,000 new homes Britain needs each year to meet demand. People living in private rented accommodation are struggling too, on average households in England are paying 40% of their gross incomes on rent.
When I first moved to Manchester to start studying my MA in Humanitarianism and Conflict response at Manchester University’s HCRI I was immediately struck with just how many street homeless people there where. I decided to opt for the work placement module because I wanted to try and lend a hand to organisations working to tackle Manchester’s homelessness crisis. I have always been interested in the issue of homelessness and have never been able to understand why a wealthy society such as ours has left such a huge problem untended for so long. I also have a professional background in support work with a charity run homeless hostel that I really enjoyed and I was keen to keep my hand in.
My role at Shelter is ideally suited for me. I work in the Information Resource Centre which is a client facing drop in centre for people seeking housing and social welfare advice. Quite often the first thing a client will say when they enter reception is ‘I’m homeless (or facing homelessness), what should I do?’. This is why the drop in centre is needed. Some people are street homeless and need help finding a hostel for the night, some people are in temporary accommodation and need help getting onto the social housing ladder, some are in private accommodation but are struggling to pay their rents because of cuts or confusing changes to their benefits and need help with applications and appeals. I also meet with a lot of refugees from places like Iran and Syria who are at risk of homelessness because their limited English language skills or lack of understanding of our social welfare system makes it difficult for them to access the services they need. It is touching to see the human face of global political crises and government policy that I read about in the news and talk about in classes every day without ever really appreciating the human element; more really needs to be done to support these people to integrate into our society.
Doing this work placement has given me a great deal and has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of my Masters. I feel I am working on the front line of the movement to address homelessness and through this have come to understand many of the problems people at risk of homelessness are facing and the limited options they have available to them. This work has started to give me a picture of the underlying causes of homelessness and what can be done to tackle it, which I intend to explore when producing my