The recent report from the excellent Heriot Watt University commissioned by Crisis as part of their 50th year anniversary predicting a 50% plus rise in homelessness is shocking, but it comes as no surprise for many of us. We are in a perfect storm of people becoming poorer despite more being in employment, greater insecurity in employment, huge instability in the economy, in particular because of Brexit and unstable global leadership, all whilst the cost of housing across all tenures is rising and/or just becoming more inaccessible. We know that more people find themselves in tougher places more quickly. Yet as Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick has shown, this increased vulnerability is not spread over all of society. The percentage of people in society who are mostly in danger of becoming homeless is far greater than 50%. These numbers mask a deeper, more systemic inequality that begins at birth.
It’s been interesting talking to Crisis about how they will mark their 50 years’ work, not least because it is Cyrenians 50th anniversary is next year. They take the view that grateful as they are for the extraordinary commitment made by so may over those years, it is not a time for celebration, especially in light of this report. Cyrenians will take the same view – thankful for all the journeys we have shared, but wishing those we journey with didn’t have to travel them in the first place.
What both organisations have learnt over the last 50 years is there is no one solution to the scandal of homelessness, and that the solutions are rarely just about bricks and mortar. The seeds of the real, system-changing solutions lie in action and activity way before people become close to homelessness.
For example, we need to understand that the purpose of a house is to create a home rather than to be an asset, which means not seeing or allowing house values to be such a central part of our definition of economic success. We need to push harder on the success of the Living Wage campaign so that wages do more than contribute to survival and/or trapping people in poverty. It might mean challenging particularly big employers to reduce profit margins for a while – no matter the shareholder impact but the long term benefits, not just on the economy but also on people’s wellbeing, will be immeasurable. It means supporting all of us as each of us need, so that we can have the tools of human flourishing at our disposal, and that means opportunities at a very individual level as well as tackling these huge, societal challenges.
For example, this weekend Cyrenians will be holding not one, but two open days in our gardens; one at Midlothian Hospital where we support people struggling with mental health challenges and one in Dollar park in Falkirk where we support people through community payback orders. Apparently different starting points, different places of vulnerability, but the common task of planting, growing harvest and eating is life-changing.
The journey to a new place where homelessness is much less likely begins with something very different to finding bricks and mortar. It’s about finding yourself, believing that change is possible and that wellbeing can be real. If we can combine those big changes and support these individual journeys, it may be that Cyrenians won’t have to mark its 100th anniversary for there will be no need for it to exist – now there’s an ambition with a twist!
Midlothian Community Hospital Gardens are open 2-4 this Saturday and Dollar Park is open 10-3. Hope to see you there.