It is true that, in Poole, we have less than a dozen people at any one time sleeping rough and while that is 12 people too many it is only the tip of the iceberg. The plight of rough sleepers should bring shame on us all, you can see people turn away as the dishevelled looking person asks for the price of a cup of tea. They are making assumptions – that they are an addict, that the money will be spent on alcohol or that they must have done something awful to end up on the streets.
Of course every one is a human being with a story, with a family, with a former life and without understanding that past, we cannot begin to help them shape a new future. I am proud that the Liberal Democrats are talking about mental health, and investing significant sums in treatment. Large numbers of people living on the streets will have suffered a mental health crisis – many in childhood or adolescence – and we need to find ways to improve the transition out of care so that our most vulnerable young adults are not cut adrift.
But what of the hidden homeless, the individuals and families of whom most people are completely oblivious?
I accept that the benefits bill had to be cut, the spiralling debt of the country simply couldn’t continue to rise, but the culture of blame towards the poor and the young leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth. We should be encouraging young people into work and extending apprenticeships but we cannot demonise those who, for some reason, need to live apart from their family or who need a safety net. It cannot be right that, in the 21st Century, single people are forced to sleep on friends sofas for months on end, use hostels, or face a choice between exploitation or a cardboard box!
I am proud that the Liberal Democrats have pledged to retain housing benefit for the under 25s.
For families the issues around homelessness are different. Many families on housing benefit are forced into very poor housing and are at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords and face the threat of eviction if they complain or worse, served notice as soon as they move in because the landlord can get more money from another tenant in 6 months’ time. I want to see the next government outlaw such practices and see a review of how we can moderate rent levels.
I am proud to support the No One Turned Away initiative from Crisis. There is no reason why someone presenting themselves to their local authority should not be treated with dignity and respect. I will do all I can if elected to Parliament to make sure that single homeless people are not let down by our councils, support the review announced by Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams into single homeless provision and work to protect the vulnerable in our society.