Britain Needs a New Approach to Homelessness

Jan 21, 2021 by

by Noel Yaxley, Quillette:

“Out here, everyone’s taking something,” a man named Karl explains as he scratches his chest and tries to gather up the copies of the Big Issue he’s just dropped. Karl is standing in the middle of a busy high street, across from Norwich’s historic market. He is one of the estimated 40 men and women in the city who sleep rough every night. Originally from east London, the 45-year-old left the capital after a relationship broke down and headed northward and settled here. After a number of serious issues with alcohol and drugs, he lost his flat and has spent the last three years bedding down on concrete in and around Norwich.

Homelessness is an extremely contentious and emotive issue. As a general rule, those on the Right view it as an employment problem, while those on the Left tend to see it as the result of austerity and cuts to social spending introduced by the Conservative party. As I wandered the city I stopped to ask strangers what they thought should be done to tackle the problem and received a litany of responses. The most common were: “Homeless people don’t choose to sleep on the streets,” “They need to get a job,” and “The problem is caused by inadequate government spending.” I heard the last of these the most. Not one person mentioned the city’s most serious problem: drug abuse. According to ONS data, Norwich has the highest heroin fatality rate in eastern England. At 4.1 deaths per 100,000, it exceeds those of larger cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, and London. And at 21 per 100,000, the city’s deaths from drug poisoning in the country are exceeded only by those of Blackpool.

I asked Karl about the problems faced by rough sleepers on a daily basis, and he told me drug abuse is the most common. This assessment is widely shared on the street. I asked a homeless woman if she takes drugs, and she looked at me with incredulity. “Are you serious, mate?” The middle-aged Irish woman with her elaborated: “You find me someone sleeping rough out here who claims they don’t take drugs,” she said, “and I’ll show you a leprechaun.” Outside McDonald’s, I found a talkative young man named Chris peering out from beneath a bundle of blankets. “I’m not much of a drinker, I’m more into drugs myself,” he told me, as an elderly woman handed him a coffee. “If you want to score, just hang around here for a while,” he added, before spotting the police, grabbing some dirty sheets, and quickly leaving.

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