All Under the Same Roof: Breaking Stigma and Supporting the Homeless in Lancaster

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In 2018, Gyula Remes died sleeping rough on the streets of London opposite the buildings of Parliament in the eyes of the public, the media and the establishment. Despite this visible tragedy, homelessness continues to be an issue recklessly ignored by our government as numbers of rough-sleepers continue to rise, an estimated ten-thousand people living on the streets of London yearly. To put that in perspective, Lancaster Uni has nine-thousand full-time students in total. These are people suffering, they are not distant, they are here, now, at our doorstep.

In the last decade, the number of people who are homeless in England has increased by 250%. It is an ever-growing issue that we have the means to address, but not the political will. There is a certain apathy in our modern political discourse around homelessness as if it was a fact of life. It is not and it does not have to be. Everyone has the right to a roof over their head, and to feel safe – as outlined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Nevertheless, it has somehow become easier to envision World War III than the ending of poverty in the UK. 

Homelessness has been proven over and over to be largely caused by structural factors such as the lack of social sector housing, unfavourable labour markets, addiction or mental illness. Yet measures could be effectively addressing these structural problems. So what is to be done? Nationally, a “housing first model” could be implemented, like that of Finland, which aims to provide every person with a council house directly rather than sending people to homeless shelters which can lead to them getting stuck in limbo. Reinvestments in mental health care facilities could also lift homeless people out of downwards spirals and towards the help they need. In addition, the decriminalisation of drug use could help people get the help they need without fear of prosecution. These however are all long term solutions that require structural change, so we urge you to push your MP’s towards policies that give homelessness the solution it deserves. But there are still things you can do right now to help in the larger fight against homelessness in Lancaster. 

Lancaster City Council’s homelessness strategy report found 638 homeless people in Lancaster City alone. And seven have recently passed away from a drug overdose caused by mental health issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic, according to the Lancaster & District Homeless Action Service (henceforth, LDHAS). There are people in dire need even now whilst I write this article. But there are real ways we can help, primarily through donating clothes. Specifically, the LDHAS is in need of men’s jeans, boxers, unisex t-shirts and socks; which can all be donated by contacting them at contact@ldhas.org.uk. Beyond COVID-19, we would also strongly advise trying to volunteer with a food bank, shelter or soup kitchen – just one morning can go a long way. Contacting the LDHAS will allow you to be placed on a reserve list and called upon in times of need. 

In the meantime keep an eye out for the campus food bank collection that will be occurring later this year, in the summer term, for Morecambe food bank. This would be an ideal opportunity to start helping out; donating any non-perishable goods would be ideal and massively appreciated. We can also work to change the sometimes debilitating social stigmas around homelessness. Often the degrading looks and hostile glances that are aimed at homeless people can make their attempts at improving their circumstances all the more daunting. Changes in our attitudes are the first steps we can make towards changes in policy. One day at a time let’s also work to lessen this stigma and do what we can to help the people abandoned by society.

We can see the end of homelessness in our lifetime. It’s time we ignite passions and charge head-on at the issue of homelessness. Let’s do everything we can.

Tom Sierko,

Member of The Agapic Project.

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