Preventing homelessness

It would seem that so much of what we hear about housing need is about the issue of not having a home or, in our society, not being able to afford a home in the community in which you are rooted.

But shouldn’t we also be considering the events which lead to housing crisis, and the ways in which intervention could prevent it?

I believe that any plan to deal with homelessness should have a new focus. We undoubtedly need more homes: most experts seem to agree that we need to be building at least double the number of homes we are currently developing in order to simply meet demand. If we are putting into practice a vision of society where our resources are carefully used to maximise the benefit of development, then we need to think more widely than a simple low cost model of construction.

The charity I work for, Southwark Habitat for Humanity, has just completed the construction of 10 flats in Banbury, Oxfordshire that also allowed 18 young people who were not in training, education or employment to gain the skills and build a future in which their risk of homelessness is reduced.

They have been taught the disciplines of work, basic construction techniques and the life skills they need, while new affordable homes have been built to a high standard of workmanship. As a partner in the project, Cherwell district council has developed good practice around the prevention of young people becoming homeless as well as providing housing where it is needed.

These young people had left school without ambition and hope. I believe the project has given these trainees not only the skills to succeed but also the confidence that they will need to succeed and consequently be less likely to end up in the crisis of homelessness.

I am also certain that training disadvantaged people as a part of a development project should be more widespread. We should be evaluating housing and other local authority projects not only on simple cost terms but also on the benefit to individuals and society.

Let’s build a society to understand and measure value in a new way, not simply on upfront costs. It is better to empower people with the skills to live full and viable lives, rather than to become homeless with all of the costs to society that this incurs?

Gareth Hepworth is chief executive of Habitat for Humanity

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