Migration adds further complexity to the housing and homelessness crisis: how much is it a factor?
In South Leeds, the arrival of new communities has undoubtedly caused a squeeze on affordable local housing. However, nationally, migration is arguably only one of several reasons for the housing shortage.
There are fewer that 20,000 homes nationally being used to house asylum seekers. The number of refugees adds a further estimated 150,000 homes. And other new migrant communities live in a further estimated 1 million homes.
But writers like academic Danny Dorling insist the 2011 census shows the UK has more rooms per person than any point in history. He and others argue that the single biggest housing issue is distribution. Recent decades have seen a huge growth in second home ownership (there are now over 700,000 nationally): houses that sit empty most of the time, as investments or holiday getaways.
There is also ‘land-banking’ – where big housing developers buy up then sit on empty land, as an investment, or waiting for property prices to rise. And yet another big factor is the lack of smaller homes for older people into move into – to release big family homes. Meanwhile, a disproportionate number of new migrants experience homelessness – especially work migrants who fall into unemployment, or people whose asylum claims fail. These typically have limited or zero access to public funds, so are even more helpless than UK citizens, sometimes for years on end.
In Leeds, organisations including PAFRAS, the Red Cross, Solace, and LASSN have worked alongside thousands of volunteers to support these people for many years – with temporary accommodation, food, and other services – and therefore taken the pressure off other frontline homeless schemes.
Ways you can help locally include volunteering with LASSN’s award-winning ‘Grace Hosting’ project, which sees homeless people seeking asylum staying temporarily with you; dozens of South Leeds residents have been involved, and have many good stories to tell (visit our website for those stories). There is also an urgent need for fosters carers for unaccompanied child refugees: visit migrationyorkshire.org.uk. And food and financial support is also welcome at the local charities.
And with particular reference to asylum, campaigners are pushing: for people seeking asylum to be allowed to work, so they can support themselves; and for an amnesty for all those seeking asylum for over 10 years. For more info, visit: refugeecouncil.org.uk.
This post is one of a series of articles about homelessness, hearing people’s real experiences of live on the streets and ‘sofa surfing’ and find out about services that are trying to help people in crisis.