This is an article for the South Wales Evening Post
There has been a visible increase in the number of street homeless right across the UK over the last few years. The system is not coping with the number and the circumstances of the many individuals presenting themselves as without a home.
Research by the NHS has found that the average homeless person has a life expectancy of 47, compared to 77 for the rest of the population, a startling difference of 30 years. The life expectancy for women was even lower, at just 43 years.
Changed economic circumstances arising from family breakdown, losing employment and/or wider health issues may well have contributed to people ending up on the streets in the first place. Everybody has their own story, but inevitably at a time of austerity, low wages, economic uncertainty and job losses in the public and private sectors, the numbers finding themselves homeless will rise.
How we deal with these individual tragedies is important. It is never as simple as just providing a roof over somebody's head, though that is the first crucial step. A lot of the people living on the streets will also require intensive support to help them with any mental health, drug or alcohol problems and to enable them to manage their changed circumstances. It is slow and steady work which requires investment in services and in the individuals and which can only really be taken one step at a time.
At present no government is committing enough resources to invest in all those currently living rough. For that reason, we are seeing more people begging in shop doorways and elsewhere, tents are being pitched on pieces of waste land and individuals are spending longer sleeping outdoors.
Our attitude to these situations define us as a civilisation. Let us offer help, not condemnation, sustenance not prohibition. And if we have to take a selfish attitude to this problem, then consider this: it only takes a small change in our own circumstances to put us on the streets. How would we wish to be treated then?