Plight of the homeless in Sheffield is shameful

A homeless person in a shop front. Picture: Andrew Roe
A homeless person in a shop front. Picture: Andrew Roe

Sheffield is a hard place to be homeless. I’m not the only person who sees six or seven rough sleepers every day without fail, while walking through the city centre.

Shamefully I admit that the suffering of these people, who have very little to their name, was often pushed to the back of my mind and forgotten, up until recently.

Nick Owen homeless feature
Reporter Nick Owen

Nick Owen homeless feature Reporter Nick Owen

As part of my University course, areas of study include writing news articles. For one of my news pieces, I chose to write about the homeless in the local area. In gathering information I spoke to those who have experienced first-hand rough sleeping – former homeless people who are now in work – and to University researchers who have spent many years studying this area. This really opened my eyes to the intricacies of daily hardships felt by those living on our city’s streets.

Speaking to David Smith, a rough sleeper from South Yorkshire, he said that because he hasn’t got a ‘local connection’ to the Sheffield area, the council cannot class him as ‘Statutory homeless’, which is whom they give priority to. All David was told by the council is that he would have to return to Doncaster. Being stuck in a situation where the council do not owe him a housing duty, a three day bedsit from The Archer Project was the best that David could get. In his words “that was it”.

It’s widely known that yes, some homeless people cause their own downfall, be it through alcohol or gambling abuse and many people are less than sympathetic to their often self-inflicted problems. But they are human beings and they are struggling to live.

The closure of Park Hill flat’s ‘Tent City’ was a shame to read about. The camp provided homeless people with security and allowed charity aid to reach them easier. It was a safe place for them, instead of sleeping in the city centre where all sorts of danger may lurk. We forget that being homeless doesn’t just mean sleeping on a rough surface and having little money. It also means danger, whether that be aggressive drunks late at night or danger of being arrested. My friend David told me once of a now septic cut he’d gained from climbing a carpark fence to find a safe sleeping area.

Some cause their own downfall. But they are human beings and they are struggling to live

The current housing system employed in the UK, is just not fair. In England, Scotland and Wales, in order to be classed as ‘Statutory homeless’, you must tick each box of a certain criteria, which in my view, is rather stringent. You must prove you are eligible for public funds (which relates to your immigration status), prove you have a ‘local connection’ to the area, prove you are ‘unintentionally homeless’ and show yourself to be in ‘priority need’.

Yhdatabank.com figures show that Sheffield Council rejected 75 percent of housing applications in 2015/16, meaning only a few applicants were given ‘Statutory homeless’ status.

For someone like David, who cannot prove he has a local connection to the area and therefore isn’t a council priority, he will continue to live on the streets. There’s no disputing the council’s procedure on giving housing priority to more at risk groups such as pregnant women, or those with mental illnesses or vulnerable young people. But with rough sleeping up eight percent in the Yorkshire and Humber region in 2016 the local authority should be doing more to take people off our streets in Sheffield and into some form of accommodation. Dr Kesia Reeves, a principal research fellow at the Centre for Regional, Economic and Social research at Sheffield Hallam University said that national legislation prioritises certain groups of people who are deemed the most in need. However, this legislation also means that a lot of single people, like David, are not owed a housing duty and this can leave people in impossible situations. The imminent new cuts to housing benefits for people aged 18-21, says Dr Reeves, will inevitably mean many more rough sleepers on our streets very soon. While we have charities like Emmaus and The Archer Project whose work is important to the homeless, I believe that strict housing criteria should be reconsidered. We can’t forget the hardships the homeless endure.

Nick Owen homeless feature
Reporter Nick Owen

Nick Owen homeless feature Reporter Nick Owen