Introductory note by Gavin Barker
The article below is taken from a larger document that forms the background Information Brief that the 15-member Citizen Panel will look at during their introductory session on 17th October. We will publish the full information brief in due course but I thought the ‘Personal viewpoint’ by Dave Brown was so good that I am publishing it now.
Personal viewpoint by Dave Brown, St Petrocs
Homelessness affects all sections of society. In my time working at St Petrocs I have helped professors, bank managers, head teachers, emergency service workers and IT consultants.
The list goes on, but the one thing they had in common was that they had been forced to sleep rough. What is apparent though, is that people with trauma in their childhood histories are far more likely to become homeless and/or develop many of the so-called “complex needs” associated with homelessness, such as mental health issues, addiction to alcohol or drugs or problematic behaviour. People with a multitude of issues are incredibly vulnerable, but they can also have a negative impact on their friends and relations, and on the wider community.
If they become entrenched in sleeping rough, costs to the NHS, council services and policing can mount up, and the human cost is a shortened life, destined to be dominated by emotional upset. Cornwall Council’s document, One Vision, states that there are currently 8,000 children living in homes in Cornwall where domestic violence is taking place. Are these Cornwall’s entrenched homeless adults of the future?
A relationship breakdown of some sort is the main trigger for homelessness in our clients at St Petrocs. We assist those who do not have a priority need duty owed to them by Cornwall Council. The most common stories are of a relationship which has broken down between husband and wife, or a parent or step-parent and their grown-up children.
“Section 21” evictions (see note below) from a private rental tenancy are too high, and there need to be measures to prevent some of these evictions. Help and support for people struggling in tenancies needs to be more comprehensive and needs to go in earlier. We must be careful however, not to demonise landlords. There are, for instance, a large number of “accidental landlords”, people who have inherited a house and cannot sell it, or people forced to rent out their home when they are working abroad for a period of time. They will need to take possession of their property again at some point and that means the tenant will have to leave. The way that process works though, needs considering, so that people have the best chance of securing another tenancy as close to their employment, support networks, schools and colleges as the old tenancy.
The government and local authorities are keen to address the immediate and direct causes of homelessness under the banner of prevention. Employment, benefits, low pay, poverty, the law around tenancies, supporting tenants, better mental health services, better addiction services to name just a few areas are a good place to start. We should also be looking into the long-term future, and thinking about those 8,000 Cornish children who, as adults will be more vulnerable to homelessness than anyone else.
Note – Section 21 Evictions
The introductory briefing document (to be published) includes the latest government data which shows that evictions by Landlords in the private rental sector amount to just over one in four (26%) people made homeless in Cornwall.