On 4th November, the then Home Secretary Suella Braverman urged us all to prevent our communities becoming scarred by “rows of tents occupied by people, many of them from abroad, living on the streets as a lifestyle choice”.

The last two words earned her the sack and quite right too. As much for political tone-deafness as for the patrician insensitivity of applying casual career-change lingo to a social evil like homelessness.

What Braverman also accomplished was to sound the start of the annual ‘let’s talk about the homeless’ season. It’s the dark underbelly of the Christmas run in. Better to be talked about than not, I guess, and the excellent work of many individuals and organisations in this field must be acknowledged but here’s the thing. Homelessness in this country continues to increase. It’s a massive, growing problem. And we’re not cracking it.

For a start, the unholy trinity continues to wreak havoc. Too few affordable homes meet soaring private rents meet housing benefit that fails to cover the costs of, erm, housing. Mix in a cost-of-living crisis and a sharp spike in net migration and, in the words of Shelter Chief Executive Polly Neate, we have a “housing emergency” that is “out of control” and has “plunged record numbers into homelessness”.

The charity estimates that, in England, there will be more than 300,000 people homeless for Christmas, including 139,000 children, a level that is 14% higher than last year. Also in this country, government data indicate that 2,893 souls were sleeping rough on a single night in June, again significantly more than at the same time in 2022.

A chilling snapshot of what can be counted but inevitably excluding hidden homelessness such as sofa-surfing or squatting. This explains how women, young people and ethnic minority groups can slip through the cracks of the official figures. As a result, their plight is not accurately reflected.

Scarily, one in three homeless people dies from treatable conditions and…and… I could go on. But how depressing is this, in the world’s sixth largest economy?

The government would no doubt claim to be on the case, spending £2 billion over three years as it looks to deliver on its manifesto to end rough sleeping by 2024. This is a vast sum but, even without the impact of recent inflation, the signs are not promising. And, of course, people experiencing homelessness don’t tend to vote.

For balance, as a former trustee of a local YMCA, I am acutely aware that homelessness is complex. The not having a home element masks multiple causes (from substance abuse to no-fault eviction), each requiring separate but connected, expert intervention.

In the spirit of seeking agency, we can donate to one of the energetic charities in the space, we can write to our MPs, we can volunteer (all good). But until this or any government views homelessness as an emergency and reacts accordingly then we will all bear the shame of its expanding footprint.

For the record, too, several robust analyses have shown that the cost of ending homelessness would be less than the cost of servicing it. And tiny by COVID standards.

Overall, a nation with minimal homelessness should be one of our lifestyle choices.

Have a great festive break and thanks for reading my blogs this year.