On an international scale, it is said that there are about 100 million homeless people around the world. In Britain, the number of people who are homeless has more than doubled since 1979. This shocking statistic is a reflection of our government's withdrawal of benefits and the economic decline of the country.
The main reasons for homelessness are unemployment, low income, housing, untreated mental illness, drug problems, and family difficulties. In the 1950s, people that were affected by homelessness were elderly, poor men. But nowadays not only has the number of homeless increased, the people that are becoming homeless are also changing. They are likely to be young men and women, and those unable to afford housing. Also, people with psychiatric illnesses are sent out into the community with no support, and so are unable to cope for themselves. We think that the homeless people in Oxford vary in age a lot, from around 13 to 60 or 70 years old.
In the US, governments are starting to make plans to give low income housing, and emergency shelters to those that are homeless. The British government, however does not seem to be doing this, especially in the case of sending psychiatric patients into the community.
Homeless people do do things to help themselves. Recently a group in Brighton transformed an empty building into a worthwhile base for an organisation to help the homeless. Their aim was to advertise squats in the area around Brighton. The building was set up as an Estate Agents for squatters in the centre of the town, with pictures and information about various squats in the window. It helped many people while it was there, as the workers checked out every squat that they were told about.
Many young people who become homeless are runaways. More than 250,000 people are thought to go missing each year and the number soars over Christmas and the New Year. About one in five is young enough to be classed by police as vulnerable. If you are under 18 it is really difficult for you to get any help from state benefits, so it is hard to live away from home without turning to thieving and prostitution. This situation is dire, and leads to long-term problems.
Mary Asprey, co-founder of Missing Persons Helpline, said that young runaways might be escaping a bad situation at home:
``They are probably right to get out. Perhaps they are being physically or sexually abused. They need to be found and got to a place of safety."
A lot of adolescent girls aged around 14 and 15 do not get on with their parents. They go to friends' homes, squats or sleep rough in sleeping bags. Recently Missing Persons Helpline was involved in the case of a 13-year-old girl from Birmingham who had been missing for six weeks. She had visited a school friend's house, where she had been imprisoned and forced into prostitution.
We think that the government should be doing a great deal more to help the homeless especially the young teenagers. 16 year olds or people younger than that should be automatically entitled to some sort of benefit because most of them have been either thrown out, abused or are in a situation where it is literally impossible to go back home.
By Anna, Alex, Barney, Joe and others.
If you have a problem with homelessness in your community, what do you think your government should do about it? Is there anything your community could do? Mail us at Cherwell@rmplc.co.uk and let us know your views.