Homelessness equates to poor health, with individuals in this population often enduring problems related to mental health, physical illness, and alcohol or drug dependence. The experience of homelessness further damages health by putting individuals in dangerous and difficult living environments, reducing their access to regular health and care services, and limiting their ability to manage health and support needs. The co-morbidity of homelessness and ill-health is succinctly summarized by the premature death of homeless individuals relative to their housed counterparts (on average between 40 and 44 years old vs. an average of 75 years old).
The onset of Covid19 has, however, shown that homelessness is not a completely intractable or wicked problem. While the pandemic certainly halted many support services, it also generated unprecedented responses, especially for rough sleepers who were accommodated in a manner never before imaginable. Health and social care services also rallied and to ensure these individuals were supported, even in the absence of face-to-face contact. A range of other public organisations and private businesses also stepped up to make resources like food and clothing available too.
"As a result of Covid19 then, judgements about the value of housing the homeless shifted almost overnight. Although they often go unacknowledged, such values-based judgements actually play into all existing and future responses to homelessness too."Whilst certainly temporary in nature, and almost completely imperfect, we should reflect on the speed and scale at which such responses were mobilised and implemented. Obviously, the availability of hotel rooms alleviated the well-rehearsed accommodation shortages faced in this sector. However, empty hotel rooms, alone, cannot catalyse the effort necessary to accommodate around 90% of the UK’s rough sleepers. Rather, the country’s response was driven, at least in part, by the implications that allowing homelessness to continue had for wider society. Essentially, continued rough sleeping could have caused exponential R rate increases, unmanageable pressures on the NHS, and, inevitably, extended lockdown. Thus, homelessness became a direct threat to society’s well-being and the economy i.e., the things we value and believe to be important.
As a result of Covid19 then, judgements about the value of housing the homeless shifted almost overnight. Although they often go unacknowledged, such values-based judgements actually play into all existing and future responses to homelessness too. What society values informs, amongst other things, whether a ‘victim’ or ‘system’ blaming approach is taken to understanding homelessness and, in turn, whether homeless individuals are treated as the ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’ poor. Importantly, values-based judgements also inform whether housing-led services are pursued or whether more institutional approaches continue. As Covid19 has shown, barriers to housing can be overcome if this is valued by society and so the continuation of the latter is not only a resource issue.
As we move forward from our national ‘hibernation’ then, it is my hope that the role that values play in judgements about housing starts to be given due credit. Simultaneously, it is my hope that society will start to value the universal provision of quality housing with supports. Whether motivated by morals and empathy, or by desires to limit the spread of future illnesses, I see the recognition and emergence of such value-set in our society as the only way in which investment in housing, health, and care services, as well as in community-based and independent living supports, will become truly desirable.
Our research on values in social care and homeless service provision is supported by the National Institute for Health Research (grant no. 200073). If you would like to know more about this work, please contact Rachel.email@example.com or visit: https://www.fundingawards.nihr.ac.uk/award/NIHR200073 (opens new window).
And, lastly, if you would like to find out more about how the Housing LIN can support you plan strategically to meet the longer term accommodation needs of people who are homeless or in insecure housing, please email us stating ‘Homeless’ at: firstname.lastname@example.org