As someone who was homeless for best part of a decade, I know first-hand the devastating impact this can have on people's physical and mental health. My life fell apart when my wife died. I didn’t know how to cope and started drinking heavily. Eventually I lost my job and before long I found myself living on the streets. For a long time, night shelters were a crucial refuge for me when I had nowhere else to go. I’m still in touch with a night shelter in Chichester which supported me when I needed their help the most.
But night shelters throughout England and Wales may now be threatened with closure by a legal ruling that supported Isle of Anglesey Council's decision to deny housing benefit to a man who was staying in a night shelter. This was done on the grounds that it could not be considered his ‘home’, as the man did not have the right to leave his possessions there or a guaranteed place every night.
Many night shelters rely on Housing Benefit payments to keep their services running. This income is needed more now than ever before, as many homelessness services are already seeing other sources of funding fall due to local authority spending cuts. Without access to Housing Benefit, many shelters may be forced to close their doors.
I am extremely concerned that other Councils may now stop Housing Benefit payments to emergency shelters, placing night shelters and Nightstop schemes around the country at risk of closure. This would leave many homeless and vulnerable people with nowhere to sleep at night, placing lives in danger.
I now work for Emmaus, a homelessness charity that provides an opportunity for formerly homeless people to access long term housing and get their lives on track again. This worked for me and has completely changed my life. Overcoming homelessness has meant I have been able to rebuild my life and has given me the opportunity to renew my relationship with my son. Without the initial support I received from night shelters and the longer term support from Emmaus, I might still be living on the streets today.
Undermining the existence of emergency homelessness services will have devastating consequences for so many people, who use their services as a last resort. The government must act now to do something about this.
Please sign this petition to urge Lord Freud and the Department for Work and Pensions to take immediate action to ensure that night shelters are not forced to close due to the loss of Housing Benefit.