Helping people without homes

Small business owners are taking care of the people who live on our streets. These are heartwarming stories, and I am familiar enough with most of the businesses mentioned to be fairly sure that the owners are all genuinely trying to help people.

But I think it’s worth remembering that this sort of narrative subtly ignores the fact that government is failing in its duty to house people[1]; if housing is a human right, as the prime minister has stated, then we as a society — represented by the state — have a duty to house people. Rights that exist only on paper might as well not exist at all.

Social housing built from shipping containers

This isn’t to say that the state needs to providing housing stock for the entire population but providing state-funded housing with low (or no) rent for the hard to house seems entirely reasonable. It’s the moral thing to do but, in case that’s not enough, remember that it’s also the economically sensible thing to do.

And, let’s not forget that governments in liberal and social democracies around the world used to build social housing — and they still do in some places. It’s only since the neoliberal turn that politicians have decided it’s up to private developers to provide affordable housing (something which is obviously not working, given the number of people who still don’t have homes).

This post has been edited since it was originally published, to correct minor typos.

[1] I’m not suggesting that this is the intent of the author or even an editorial decision the paper has made. I’m talking on a more macro scale about how our narratives about homelessness often mask the root causes of the problem.