Homeless people in England and the US

If it seems to British people that there are more people sleeping on the streets these days than there used to be, they are right. Statistics published recently show that rough sleeping in England has increased for the seventh consecutive year: local authorities estimated that there were 4,751 people bedded down outside on any given night in autumn 2017, up 15% on the previous year. And it is no coincidence that the rise in rough sleeping began in 2010, the year the Tories started imposing austerity, reducing funding for homeless hostels and other support services, arbitrarily capping benefits, and raising rents.

A quarter of the rough sleepers are in London and a fifth of are foreign nationals. There are two sorts of rough sleeper: the transient homeless who get picked up and placed in at least temporary accommodation quite quickly, and those who suffer from a range of addictions and mental health issues. In the case of latter the difficulty isn’t finding them a roof, but keeping them under it. Then there is the much larger group of people languishing in poor, temporary accommodation all over the country.

Conservatives criticise Jeremy Corbyn for suggesting the purchase of 8,000 properties across the country to provide free housing for these people. Has he given any thought to “the perverse incentives that would be created by such a move?”, they ask. Buying more homes may not be the answer, but the Tory government needs to tackle the deeper causes behind homelessness. Back in the 1980s and early 90s the spike in homelessness helped bring about their electoral defeat by reinforcing the image of them as “selfish and uncaring”. The same could happen again. If Britons keep witnessing the “scandalous” sight of people sleeping outside in icy weather, they’ll turn their wrath on those who failed to fix the problem. (various news articles, including The Times and the New Statesman).

The British may think they have a bad problem but there were, according to Reuters and the Department of Urban Development, 554,000(!) homeless people in the United States in January 2018, a quarter of them children! 193,000 of these were living on the streets and had no access to shelters or safe havens. New York, Massachusetts, Washington DC, Hawaii, and California were the worst affected states. Of these DC is by far the worst (high house prices, a big black population and many very poor people).

Were Epicurus alive today I have no doubt he would consider this a disastrous reflection on a society which in many ways is so advanced, and in others so heartless.

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