On 28 May, BBC3 broadcastBritain’s Hidden Homeless, presented by rap artist Speech Debelle. The programme follows “sofa surfers”, who aren’t included on homeless counts, and how their situation affects their physical and mental health while putting strain on the people they stay with.
Speech Debelle was homeless a decade ago and wrote about her experience of being in a hostel in songs that helped win her a Mercury award. Like the people she follows, her homelessness was a result of a relationship breaking down.
She finds the housing situation worse now than ten years ago. It’s more difficult to get a hostel place due to increasing homelessness and cuts in their funding from government. Meanwhile, rental prices have increased enormously.
InLondon, where the average price for renting just a room is £650 a month, five people are chasing each room to let. In her search for a room Sam, a 26 year old unemployed graduate, keeps getting told by landlords that they’ll have “no DSS”.
Sometimes she sleeps on her mum’s sofa, but she can’t live there as it’s a one-bedroom flat and staying would also mean her mum, who has been made unemployed, has her housing benefit affected.
Sam also stays at her friend’s home, but she can’t stay there permanently either as it is student accommodation. Sam living there would mean the property becomes liable for council tax.
The programme also shows Sam applying to several job vacancies, also reflecting the few jobs available for the million unemployed young people. Eventually she gets a job, though Speech says people working cannot claim housing benefit. While this may be true for Sam, many housing benefit claimants are actually low-paid workers.
Stephen was a sofa surfer before becoming a rough sleeper. The programme shows him staying at a church-run night shelter that only has funding to open a few months at a time.
The programme also follows Jordan, a rough sleeper in Accrington,Lancashire, who gets support from a charity daycentre. Another sofa surfer, Nikita fromSurrey, eventually gets an interview for a YMCA hostel place. Nikita gets the place, after passing the YMCA’s strict admission test.
Speech Debelle says that hidden homelessness is making a “lost generation” of young people, taking away their energy and talent, and that almost anyone could end up homeless.
The programme shows the results of the Con-Dems’ cuts to housing benefit and in funding to homeless charities and to councils. Speech praises the role of homeless charities. But housing campaigners would question why the cuts have been made or why housing prices have risen so much. They would also say something about the lack of affordable social housing being built and suggest solutions.
Britain’s Hidden Homeless can be viewed at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer until 4am on 24 June.