Occasionally it is necessary to restate the bleeding obvious: when homes become unaffordable, people become homeless. There are places in the world where this has already happened (looking at you, California) and the results are stark: tent cities springing up, low paid workers living out of their cars, crammed shelters turning away all but the most desperate of cases. Could this be the future for England too?
Rise in unaffordable homes
California has a massive housing problem. The most recent count of homeless people - a snapshot count of those on the streets or in shelters on a particular night - included 161,000 individuals. Of these 113,000 were classified as ‘unsheltered’ - i.e rough sleepers. Approximately half the total of unsheltered people in the whole of the USA are sleeping outside in California cities.
Before California had a homeless crisis, it had a housing affordability crisis. For years, house prices and rents were increasing faster than wages. A situation that is echoed in present day Britain.
Impact of inequality
If the state of California was a country it would have the 5th largest economy in the world (UK and France typically compete for this place in the list) but the wealth is very unevenly spread. Inequality figures for 2018 showed households in the top 10% earning over 10x the income of a family in the bottom 10%. Recessions typically widen income inequality. This was the case for the last three recessions in California - the figures aren’t in yet for the recession caused by the Covid pandemic, but we can take an educated guess that the poor suffered more than the rich because they always do.
When social housing provision is next to non-existent, and families are spending more than half of their income on rent in insecure housing owned by private landlords backed by laws that allow predatory rent increases and indiscriminate evictions, the conditions are set for a homelessness crisis.
Saving grace in the UK
One saving grace that the UK has (for now) is the NHS. The tipping point for many homeless people in the United States is the receipt of a large medical bill. Naturally, health trumps all other concerns, and there are innumerable cases of people losing their homes because they spend their money on healthcare and can no longer afford to pay rent.
House price increases and healthcare access impacting on homelessness statistics is an example of system interconnectedness. You can work as hard as you like to solve a problem such as homelessness, but unless others are working equally hard to address problems in connected systems (such as inequality in the global economy, profiteering in the housing markets, and lack of universal coverage in the healthcare system) there will always be more people facing the challenges of the unsheltered life.
At Kanndoo, we have big ambitions to address poverty and homelessness. Our software can be used to ease communication between people, between organisations. Perhaps bringing together those who don’t realise they are fighting the same fight?
Do you have a story to share of how unaffordable rents have raised challenges in your life? We’d like to talk to people about their experiences of homelessness or poverty. You can contact Kanndoo on 01603 971590 or email firstname.lastname@example.org