Thank you, Mr Robertson.
As we know, homelessness is a crisis. It is devastating, and it should not happen to anyone. We should all be clear that we are just a few steps away from finding ourselves with nowhere to go, whether through the loss of our jobs or our health, or relationship breakdown. Homelessness can be an isolating and frightening experience. Homeless people often feel that they are invisible, ignored and forgotten. At worst, homelessness can mean sleeping rough on the streets. Of course, we all know that the problem of homelessness is much bigger than the problem of rough sleeping. It is clear that, after years of declining trends, all forms of homelessness have risen due to the shortage of housing and the ongoing effects of the worst economic recession for 100 years.
I register my thanks to Crisis, Shelter, Homeless Link, Centrepoint, the local government ombudsman, Depaul UK, Generation Rent, the Children’s Society and Gallery Youth, as well as to the House of Commons Library for providing supporting information for this debate. I acknowledge the profoundly good work done by many smaller charities across the country, such as St Petroc’s Society and the St Austell community kitchen, in my constituency, and many religious groups that seek to help people who find themselves with nowhere to go.
Crisis points out that almost one in 10 people say they have been homeless at some point, with a fifth of those people saying that it has happened in the past five years. I spent a period after a relationship breakdown out of the flat that we had been in and sofa-surfing with my friends. Although that is not rough sleeping, it is a form of homelessness. The experience was traumatic for me and even more traumatic, I suspect, for the friends I was imposing on. I remain very grateful for their help.
It happened to me later in life, but, alarmingly, half of all homeless people first become homeless aged under 21, with the majority facing the experience again and again because they cannot get the help that they need. Indeed, the Children’s Society tells us that every year about 14,000 children aged 16 or 17 present themselves as homeless, and many are placed in inappropriate accommodation such as bed and breakfast and short-term lets.
Last year, about 3,400 16 or 17-year-olds left care and found themselves in need of accommodation. Soon-to-be-published Children’s Society research shows that more than two thirds of children assessed because of a risk of homelessness are not offered any help, and that a quarter of 16 to 17-year-olds assessed are housed in unsuitable accommodation after presenting themselves.