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Pitching a solution?

Does providing people with tents provide a viable solution to the homeless crisis?

With a lack of affordable housing and cuts to welfare benefits in recent years it is not surprising that the amount of people left sleeping on the street has increased by 30% since 2015. Amongst other charitable initiatives, a new trend has emerged of providing the homeless with tents in a bid to provide them with immediate and much needed shelter.

The call to donate or provide tents from a number of charities and campaign groups has led many to question whether there is a real solution in providing pop up shelter for the homeless. It is clear that the use of tents provides a more comfortable quality of life for those sleeping rough in the UK. The fact that tents can be easily assembled and are light and cheap, means they are a practical solution to providing shelter from the elements. In addition, with the introduction of “Hostile Architecture”, such as Oxford Council’s anti-homeless spikes, designed to keep homeless people away from buildings, the use of tents has created an alternative to finding a safe place to sleep.

In the USA there is a large drive to provide tents to the homeless in this way. It is suggested that groups of tents create a sense of community, allowing increased protection from attacks and the ability to keep possessions from being stolen. Similarly, a charity in the Netherlands has taken to collecting abandoned tents and sleeping bags at music festivals to provide shelter for the homeless population of their country.

As well as the practical benefits, it could be argued that the presence of tents in the street and in parks gives increased visibility to the problems and invites much needed attention, making it that much more difficult to turn a blind eye to the problem.

But the initiatives are not without their critics. There is a valid concern that this simply acts as a sticking plaster and as a disincentive to the government to properly tackle the root causes of homelessness. A tent is not an alternative to a home but is equivalent only to a donation such as blankets, soup or a warm coat in winter. The government have set £10 million aside to tackle the homeless problem – we should not allow them to believe that this money is best used by providing “sticking plasters”. The best use for such funds would be to address the many reasons for the growing numbers of homeless people (lack of rent controls, spiralling housing costs, cuts to Housing benefit and the depletion of social housing, to name just a few) and to invest in temporary accommodation. The question naturally arises “how does the Government expect to achieve this with such a limited fund?” It is probable that they do not and that this money is in fact meant only to treat the symptoms but this should not stop us demanding more.

That more is being done to treat the symptoms that the cause is neatly illustrated by the recent watchdog report revealing that female prisoners had been released from a UK prison onto the streets with nothing more than a tent and sleeping bag due to the lack of social housing.

There are also those who object to the sight of the homeless living in tents. In Manchester a successful injunction was filed to prevent homeless campers from pitching tents on council owned land. It has also been argued by local councils that the use of tents incites anti-social behaviour such as littering. It is clear then that the use of tents is not a long term solution to the housing crisis as not only is this no substitute for a proper home but the homeless are still seen as a nuisance whether or not they are in a tent and therefore they are unable to remain in a permanent place.

In conclusion, the introduction of tents to the homeless has clear short term benefits in that these provide a slightly better quality of living to those forced onto the streets. However, this idea is not a solution to solving the homelessness crisis and should not be allowed to let us lose sight of the far more pressing need to stop the spiralling problem of homelessness altogether. A great deal more needs to be done in the way of investment in social housing and homelessness prevention and perhaps the best thing we can do now is to point to the growing number of tents in our cities as evidence of this.