THE NEW WORKER

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 21st December 1990


Hostel scheme not enough: Homeless betrayed

GOVERNMENT plans to provide 320 hostel places for homeless people by the end of this winter are totally inadequate to end the misery of homelessness created by Tory policies.

The Government’s £15m plan, announced last Tuesday by housing minister Sir George Young, will fund a further 700 places in flats and houses to be provided by housing associations.

Only 20 places will be available by Christmas for the 2-3,000 people currently sleeping rough in London.

Sir George Young also intends to co-opt Nick Hardwick to the Department of the Environment for six months. He is the director of Centrepoint Soho, a charity for young homeless people.

The £15m is part of a £96m Government commitment over three years made some time ago.

The announcement of the scheme just before Christmas is seen as a cynical attempt by the Government to appear to be doing something to help the all too-visible victims of homelessness.

But more low standard hostel accommodation would just drive the problem out of sight.

Peter O’Kane of the London Housing Unit said; “Most of the hostel places are simply improved versions of many substandard old hostels, whose large size in some cases makes them difficult to heat and run.”

Hostel life is not popular and many prefer the streets.

“People get violent there and I don’t like it,” said one young man, “I will not come off the street to any hostel if it is not clean, with clean sheets like home.

“The last time half the people were drunks and I was so scared I couldn’t sleep there,” he added.

Private centres

A homeless young woman said, “Private centres are best, like Centrepoint, where you can have a shower, play pool or watch television. The Government will not be able to do anything like that.”

Most homeless people are victims of Tory policies: changes in social security benefit rules which deny help to young people; turning mentally ill people out of institutions to “care in the community” that doesn’t exist; housing restrictions on local authorities and very high mortgage rates.

Apart from those on the streets many families are living in bed and breakfast accommodation in overcrowded, unsafe conditions that cause physical and mental damage, especially to children.

Around 43,000 homeless families will spend Christmas in temporary housing. On average they will have to stay for 11 months.

In some hotels up to 25 families have to share lavatories and bathrooms and none have any play space.

Most parents are seriously worried about their children’s health.

Sheila McKechnie, director of the housing charity Shelter said, “While we welcome money to alleviate homelessness, we are dismayed that this is not new money, that it is only for the capital and it is no substitute for a proper, national housing policy.”

The problem is by no means confined to London. A recent census indicated that about 500 people are sleeping rough in Bristol, including some children.

In Leeds five housing associations and the city council have come together to devise a scheme to solve the growing housing problem.

In Bolton Lancashire a young man has built a tar-paper shack in a field after despairing of finding a home.

Manchester Shelter worker Joe Darby said homelessness cases recognised by local authorities in the north west came to 5,650, compared with 5,100 in inner London.

“None of this money is coming up here,” he said, “It is just ridiculous”.

One Leeds family of five have set up home in a seashore cave in Brixham Devon after redundancy, debt and eviction cast them adrift.

Their only alternative is bed and breakfast, which means being turned out after breakfast to wander the streets until they are allowed back in the evening.

“Quite frankly we are better off living in a cave,” said Paul Isaac.

The Government measures are purely cosmetic, a drop in the ocean of what is needed.

It is a problem that is bound to grow. The current economic recession will cause many more job losses.

Yet inflation, mortgage rates and the poll tax remain high. Wage values are being under-defined.

This all adds up to a recipe for growing debt, eviction, family break-up and more and more misery.

We must fight back and the trade union movement should become more involved in organising an active resistance.

Knee-jerk indignation quotes from Labour politicians are not enough.