Homelessness in the UK has risen 54% in the UK since 2010, and, according to the homeless charity Framework, rough sleeping in Nottingham has increased to its highest level in 20 years – hardly shocking to students who would have by now realised that it’s rare not to see at least one or two homeless people in the city centre, regardless of weather or time.
Last year, Nottingham City Council launched a now infamous poster campaign targeting beggars, which was eventually banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for its discriminatory rhetoric. But the removal of the posters hasn’t really improved the situation for homeless people in Nottingham, and as if life wasn’t difficult enough as it is for those on the streets, many local councils across the country are cutting support for services designed to help homeless people as austerity continues to hit budgets.
I decided to take to the streets of Nottingham to try and find out a little bit more about what it’s like to be homeless, first hand.
It doesn’t take long for me to find someone to talk to. Huddled up in a coat and sat under a small shelf of protruding wall which offers some shelter from the cold, grey day, is Martin, 38.
“I’m from Nottingham,” he tells me in a slightly gruff tone, one hand stroking his short beard. “Basically I’ve been homeless about four or five months.”
I ask if he wants to go inside somewhere to talk and have a hot drink, but he says he’s fine where he is.
“Night shelters provide temporary accommodation for homeless people”
“I’ve been in and out of night shelters,” he says, “but for the last three weeks I’ve been on the streets.” These night shelters are run by local charities such as Framework and the YMCA. They provide temporary secure accommodation for homeless people and have a support team which helps people find their way back into mainstream living. “Basically that’s my story at the moment.”
Martin tells me that the night shelter he uses costs £7 a night, and it’s the cheapest one he knows of. Even then he says they’re often full, and he’s been turned away on several occasions because of lack of space.
I ask him how he became homeless. “Well my dad died early, and my mum’s died since. That’s my problem really.” With no family to provide a safety net, Martin says he had nobody to turn to when times got tough. “If you don’t mind can we leave it at that please, mate?” Clearly I’ve touched upon a sensitive subject, and understandably Martin doesn’t want to give away his whole life story.
“Martin is grateful for the donations he receives, but there is only so much they can do”
I move on to the support he gets. “There’s not much, really. It’s difficult to keep up communication with anybody.” He tells me that he’s been moved on by police and community support officers several times in the past, and that the government authorities do little to help. He relies on donations from passers-by to keep himself alive, and that the money he receives goes on providing the essentials: food and shelter. He seems genuinely grateful for the donations he receives and the charities that provide the night shelters, but obviously there is only so much they can do.
“Charities and donations do not solve the root causes of the problem”
I ask him what his hopes are for the future. “Well I’m on the waiting lists,” he tells me. “But I’ve no idea how long they are.” The waiting lists for council houses and permanent accommodation can be years long, and many people fall out of the system in the intermittent time. There are also waiting lists for temporary accommodation options such as hotels and hostels, but these can be just as lengthy and don’t provide long-term security and stability.
It is clear from the state of homelessness in both Nottingham and the wider country at present that there are simply not enough housing options to meet the needs of the growing homeless population. Charities and donations are all well and good, and can often make a life-saving difference, but they do not solve the root causes of the problem.
Featured Image ‘Homeless’ courtesy of Selena Smith on Flickr (licence)
To see how you can help tackle homelessness in Nottingham, check out People of the Streets.