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Homelessness Week 2022

Homelessness Week 2022 runs from 1-7 August and reminds us of the fundamental importance of safe and secure housing to a stable life in which a person can thrive, writes ANDY HAMILTON SJ.

Once, to have a home was seen as a right. Now it is seen as a privilege. The price of houses has risen enormously. Renting has also become more expensive. In rural areas, to which many people have moved during the COVID-19 pandemic, local people are often priced out of the housing market. More people are forced to sleep in their cars and on the streets. At the same time, however, the houses left unoccupied are sufficient to provide accommodation for all who lack it.

There are many reasons why it is so hard to find a place in which to live. They include a change in attitude towards buying houses, from looking at housing as shelter, to seeing it as an investment to increase wealth. This encourages people to take out heavy loans to buy houses, which in turn raises prices. In the meantime, governments that once took responsibility for housing people with little or no income have stopped building new public houses or have sold existing stock.

It is easy to treat this situation as inevitable, particularly if we own our own houses. For that reason it is important to reflect on why housing is important, and to imagine what we lose of ourselves when we have no place in which to live. Homelessness Week is an occasion that helps us do this.

But having no stable place to sleep at night is only part of the experience of homelessness.

To be homeless cuts connections. If you have no fixed address you will find it hard access government services, to have things delivered, and to have friends and family visit you. You will move often from place to place; your children will change schools, miss friends and experience only passing relationships. Even connections with the internet will become more difficult and expensive. With no kitchen, food will be expensive; with no laundry or bathroom it will be hard to maintain hygiene and clean clothing.

Many of the people, disadvantaged in many ways, whom we accompany at Jesuit Social Services see secure housing as their major need. Insecurity in housing contributes to mental illness and withdrawal from society.

That is why in Catholic Social Teaching stable shelter is seen as a human right. In a modern society stable accommodation is necessary if we are to live fully as human beings with our dignity respected.  Without it we shrink as persons, we lose touch with friends and family, and the connections with society that are central to our lives become precarious.

In our highly developed society we should demand our governments take responsibility for shaping an economy that will allow people to buy or rent housing, and provide social housing for those who cannot afford it.