A hidden problem: As Christmas approaches, we must not forget the homeless


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The Independent Online

Most people when asked to imagine someone homeless think of a figure sleeping in a doorway. Yet, in Britain today, the issue of homelessness is far more multi-faceted and subtle than this picture conveys, as our report on the latest figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government makes clear.

Those living on the streets, or “rough sleepers”, are just a small part of a much wider problem that includes people living in hostels or shelters where they can spend months or even years. These people may not be visible but their lives remain trapped in stasis.

That is why news that the number forced into government-funded temporary housing has jumped 6 per cent in a year, and that 13,900 more households were reduced to homelessness, is such a stain on modern Britain.

This newspaper, with our sister publication the London Evening Standard, is focusing on the issue of homelessness, and specifically the plight of our homeless ex-servicemen and women, in our Christmas campaign. It was the realisation that some who had once served their country were now being so let down by it that moved us to make this our cause.

But in most cases the reasons why ex-servicemen become homeless are the same reasons that the wider public become homeless: addiction, the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, debt. That is why we hope that this year’s appeal will not only focus attention on veterans but the issues around homelessness generally.

The efforts of a raft of charities, aided by state initiatives such as the Mayor of London’s No Second Night Out campaign, mean the number sleeping rough in Britain has been cut to around 2,500, a success which must be celebrated.

Yet, as today’s figures so forcibly reveal, tens of thousands more still remain homeless; people often reduced to moving between temporary accommodation. It is important, particularly at this time of year, that out of sight does not mean out of mind.