Living and dying behind a supermarket – not on my watch!

Hearing yesterday about people dying on the streets of Teesside, brought home the issue of homelessness to me, once again. At a round table with Thangam Debbonaire MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing minister, participants from across the Tees Valley housing sector shared some of the big concerns alongside solutions and ideas that could begin to fix Teesside’s housing problem. Hearing that people on Teesside have died in the cold behind a local supermarket, is a travesty. How is it that in one of the richest countries in the world, we still have people dying on the streets?

Homeless has risen by 141% since the Conservatives came to power, and our current Tees Valley Mayor has done nothing on this issue and little to address wider housing issues such as rogue landlords and poor quality housing. Susan Gill from the homeless cafe in Middlesbrough told me “We lost fifteen people in 2019, six last year and two in the last year. We have found them behind behind iceland because that’s the only place with a shelter and most seem to go there.” She also raised concerns about debts being accrued by those who will not be able to pay, saying it was scandalous.In the initial lockdown last year local authorities moved quickly to offer accommodation to rough sleepers with some success.

But many will be forced back onto the streets when that scheme ends next month. There are also fears that financial and personal problems caused during the pandemic will create a new crisis of homelsessness as landlords begin to claw back unpaid rents.We need to take action now to prevent this growing into another crisis. People fall through the safety net for so many reasons, because of family rifts, the breakdown of a relationship, unemployment or getting their benefits sanctioned. Ordinary home life is so fragile. There is always a tale of human tragedy behind it.

People should not be abandoned to the streets because of a twist of fate. Housing will not be neglected under my watch, it will be given the attention it deserves. When housing situations worsen people are either left homeless or find themselves in the hands of Dodgy landlords with substandard property.

Susan told me stories of rental properties left for months with no heating or hot water, that can’t be right. These are people. They need to be treated with dignity and respect and helped towards rebuilding their lives. Local leadership working closely with housing providers, ethical investors and the appropriate agencies can begin to resolve this problem. We can do something about this if there is the political will and leadership.