Homelessness, where an individual lacks a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, is on the rise in the UK, and it’s an issue that stretches beyond the boundaries of Britain’s big cities. Latest statistics suggest one in every 200 people in Britain is homeless. That’s 320,000, up by 13,000 compared to the previous year. This includes those on the streets and in temporary accommodation.
It’s certainly true that the crisis is more concentrated in London and other large cities than elsewhere. Estimates suggest Newham in London has the highest concentration of rough sleepers in the country.
Yet, the issue is still significant in many smaller towns. Just 30 miles from the capital sits the leafy town of Guildford in Surrey. It counts around 40 rough sleepers each month and over 2,000 waiting for social housing, in a population of 80,000.
Close enough to be a popular commuter town for city workers, its rental prices are high and space is limited.
A new initiative in the town, Real Change, is providing the support needed to prevent homelessness in the first place.
The approach is to provide practical items like clothes for job interviews and money for rent deposits. It also funds household items like a replacement washing machine or furniture.
For many, these sudden expenses are barriers to getting by each month. It’s been reported that around a quarter of British adults have no savings at all, and one in 10 spend more than they earn.
The money specifically goes towards helping local people. Its website states, “Your donation is combined with other donations into one central pot for everyone in Guildford Borough. Local charities and organisations then work directly with individuals who are homeless, and apply for funds to pay for items they need.”
This comes on the heels of a push by the local council to address homelessness in three ways: using resources to help prevent it, offering guidance for at-risk individuals, and supplying adequate accommodation.
Newly-elected Liberal Democrats Council Leader Caroline Reeves has said, “People in Guildford are extremely generous, whenever we put a call out for help it’s answered one way or another. But with Real Change people can know that their donations will provide exactly what is wanted, where it’s wanted.”
Case studies on the Real Change website, such as Michael’s, highlight how even £100 for a new ID to claim benefits would have been enough to keep him from becoming homeless.
Real Change as an idea started as the Big Change project in Manchester. The simple yet effective approach has always been to keep the message non-patronising. One of the key ingredients is to, “Be positive about what people can do to help, not what they shouldn’t do.” The scheme is also active in Basingstoke and Rochdale.
Real Change is focused on prevention. The Number Five Project and Vaughan House are among the local organisations helping those in immediate need when they find themselves homeless.
Helping get people back into housing, and preventing them from losing their homes in the first place, is a huge challenge across the UK. But by acting early and providing the essentials people really need, initiatives like Real Change could have a significant positive impact.