A lot has been written about what we learned about ourselves, our society and our governance over the past 4 years. Technically we are now at the end of the Coronavirus 19 pandemic after 4 years and for homelessness organisations, it feels like we have found ourselves back where we started but somehow in an even worse position than March 2020.

Where there is political will, there is a way

We've all written and spoken about how incredible the Everyone In response was. This was because the government made the safety of people who were homeless a priority. No one could face allowing people to remain on the streets to face a potentially horrible death. Services mobilised in a way not seen since WWII and the result was people in homes, getting the support they needed and not having to return to the streets.

Roll on 4 years and the number of people who are street homeless and at risk of dying on our streets is back up to pre-pandemic levels. Simply, the government's pledge to reduce rough sleeping numbers has failed. With the eviction of asylum seekers and refugees, who after being given permission to remain in the country given just 7 days to find a job and find a home before they are removed from their temporary accommodation for asylum seekers. The window has been increased to 28 days but that makes little difference to those of us working in homelessness, we still see a huge shortage in affordable accommodation for people to move in to and as a result a big increase in homelessness.

Make a house a home, not an investment vehicle

The pandemic negatively affected renters and landlords. For landlords who did need to evict tenants with good reason, they now had no legal redress and often had tenants who just didn't bother to pay the rent or caused problems for the property. Once the moratorium ended, it was still a slow process to evict due to the backlog in the courts. Section 21 evictions went through the roof but landlords took an extra hit with the sky high interest rates due to the invasion of Ukraine and the Cost of Living crisis.

Smaller landlords are exiting the market in droves and foreign investors are picking up new properties to invest in, making affordable property a thing of the past.

Inflation may be on its way down, but renters now face a minefield of unsecure tenancies, rogue landlords, poor quality properties and almost always a bidding war to secure one of the few good quality properties. This is a no win situation when landlords are only focused on profit, forgetting that people do need somewhere secure to live. Add to that the government and local authorities over-reliance on the private rented sector, and we find a deluge of all sorts of people facing homelessness: older people on fixed pensions, young people due to relationship breakdown, families on low incomes and everyone in between. 

Affordable: a moving target

No one has ever defined what 'affordable' is in any satisfactory, meaningful way. If we thought we were struggling with housing in March 2020, we are in a full blown housing crisis four years later. As more and more people are squeezed into hard  situations, we are seeing a more diverse cohort through the doors at Barnabus. One thing is common: finding a property they can afford in the area they need to live in for family, work or health reasons is almost impossible.

Shelter has been campaigning for more social housing to be built and that's where the real issue lies. With successive governments failing to build enough new houses, let alone social houses, demand outstripped supply in a market built for profit. When population growth and demographic changes affect this (more people living alone, family breakdown requiring enough bedrooms for children to stay at each parent's house) increased demand is always going to be a driver for increased rents and house prices. Sadly those rents and house prices are way out of the price range for low income families and individuals.

If the past four years have taught us anything, it's the power of community and the will to do the right thing by people who are homeless. At Barnabus we will continue with those two points and continue to support people experiencing homelessness on their journey.