We have just endured, for what felt like an eternity, the Prime Minister and his acolytes on a mission to get something done? What was it again? No, please, aarrgghh.

Now that, regardless of political persuasion and with all the attendant caveats, we have a degree of clarity, it’s surely time to get other stuff done too. At the top of my list would be addressing the national scandal of homelessness.

I have posted a blog on the subject for the last two Decembers, motivated by a personal interest. I am a trustee of YMCA North London which, in conjunction with its sister Housing Society, provide a range of community services in the Borough of Haringey, including a 154-bed hostel for young people at risk of homelessness.

Sadly, even over this short period, the problem has worsened. A couple of years ago, figures released by Shelter recorded an estimated 307,000 people in Britain as homeless or living in inadequate homes. The latest analysis puts the number at 320,000, slightly larger than the population of Nottingham, up by four percent which is equivalent to 36 new people becoming homeless every day.

For Shelter’s Chief Executive, Polly Neate, the devastation caused by a “perfect storm of spiralling rents, welfare cuts and total lack of social housing” has continued unabated. Indeed, there is evidence that bed spaces in accommodation services aimed at helping people off the street fell from 43,655 in 2010 to 34,900 in 2018.

Other chilling statistics are also moving in the wrong direction. An estimated 726 people died while homeless in England and Wales in 2018. This was an increase of 22% on 2017, the highest year-on-year rise since the data was first collected.

As at March 2019, 84,740 households were stuck in temporary accommodation, up more than 75% since December 2010. Shelter estimates that, by this Christmas, there will be 135,000 children living in temporary accommodation.

On any given night, around 5,000 people bed down on the streets, a figure that has almost doubled over the last decade and, worse still, is likely to be a huge underestimate.

These facts sit uneasily in the context of 216,000 empty homes (the highest level since 2012) and a Universal Credit system that, to date, has presented substantial, additional difficulties for people experiencing homelessness.

And that’s before considering the so-called ‘hidden homeless’ who are unknown to authorities, staying with relatives or friends, sofa surfing or sleeping in cars or sheds or in the countryside, residing in places that lie beyond the reach of the official tally.

This blog is beginning to remind me of the tall story, attached in the telling to U2 front man Bono, in which, during the silence between songs at a gig in Glasgow, he begins clapping his hands. After a minute or so, during which the audience is invited to join in, Bono confronts his fans with the heady claim that “every time I clap, another child in Africa dies”. Quick as a flash, a man in the front row shouts out “well, stop f***ing doing it then”. For the effect it has had, maybe I should stop writing about homelessness and take some action instead?

In this regard, I applaud the work of our YMCA’s energetic and dedicated team, providing safe and stable accommodation to over 300 young people annually. Their progressive approach to the needs of the whole person, beyond the basics of food and shelter, is particularly impressive. The wider support and guidance, the activities for personal development plus training and preparation for work clearly indicate an understanding that the homeless are not just people without a roof over their heads and that homelessness results from a range of complex issues.

But charities cannot deal with this alone and, in a civilised country, accepting that some individuals will always slip through the net (and some will choose to live outside the system), I urge the new government to deliver on its one nation ambition by committing to tackle homelessness. No one should be without a home. It’s the most important four-letter word in our language.

Finally, I will pass on some advice given to me about what any of us members of the public can do about homelessness:

  • Speak to homeless people, let them know they are not invisible;
  • Buy them a hot drink/some hot food (or cold equivalents in summer);
  • Fill a rucksack with essentials like toothbrushes/toothpaste, water, hats, gloves, scarves, socks and hand them out as you see fit;
  • Go into a local charity shop and ask them what they need;
  • Support existing projects, at a national level or in your neighbourhood. There are plenty of organisations doing great work – for example, StreetLink enabling outreach teams to receive alerts about rough sleepers, Streets Kitchen (as the name suggests) and larger charities like Crisis, Centrepoint, St Mungo’s, Shelter and the YMCA all of which are promoting accessible initiatives at this time of year

Overall, though, homelessness is not just a Christmas phenomenon. It will only be defeated when our intolerance of this societal scourge lasts for 52 weeks rather than the six-week run up to the end of December. For the homeless we do need to behave like it’s Christmas every day, especially in the chill of January and February.

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