David Thomas our Legal Officer was recently invited as a guest lecturer by the Warwick University School of Law. After networking with talented law students David inspired them to set up their own campaign around the Homeless Bill of Rights. We hope to bring you the podcast interview soon so be sure to check back. David Thomas has also been invited to speak at his own home college, Birkbeck School of Law, at a one day conference entitled “Law at the margins of the city” on 26th March 2019. David said “I will be there not as an academic but as a housing activist, representing BHHC and talking mostly about the Homeless Bill of Rights.”
So the Coalition thought this would be a good opportunity for member organisations and others to find out a little more about what makes David tick in a short Q & A session.
Why are you personally interested in helping to prevent homelessness?
Up to five years ago I used to work as a legal aid housing solicitor, helping people to solve their housing problems, and I always felt that the work I did with homeless people and trying to prevent homelessness was the most important work of all. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that housing is a human right: we cannot do any of the things that make up a full and worthwhile life if we are homeless – it is a state of desperation that no-one anywhere should have to suffer.
What do you do to help eradicate homelessness?
The most important thing was when I joined the Brighton & Hove Housing Coalition, straight after it was launched in 2017. There I found inspiring people and campaigns around homelessness that I could help with my legal skills. I also work with an organisation called Law for Life doing training for anyone who is interested on the basics of housing and homelessness law; we will next be offering a day’s training on homelessness law and dealing with local authorities on Saturday 16thMay 2018 in Brighton
Why do we have a Rough Sleeping and Homelessness Crisis?
There is no question in my mind: it is this government and the last one, with their austerity programmes, that have caused the massive increase in homelessness since 2010. It is partly the lack of social housing and the increasing costs of private renting, but above all it is the destruction to the welfare benefits system, with housing benefit being capped at a level that does not cover even very poor quality private accommodation and the brutal sanctions regime stripping so many people of their benefits. The safety net is full of gaping holes and more and more people are falling through.
What does change look like?
We need to change the government’s policies. There is only a certain amount we can do at a local level, but we can make life more bearable for homeless people, we can try to make sure that they are treated as equal citizens with the rest of us, and we can provide paths out of homelessness.
How do we get there?
There are many important things we can do at a local level. Taking temporary accommodation away from private providers and bringing it in house is a critical one. But to concentrate on the campaign I am most involved with at the moment: we can promote the Homeless Bill of Rights. This is a document that seeks to ensure equality of consideration for our homeless fellow citizens, that commits the council to providing shelter enough that no-one ever has to sleep rough, and that demands that in every council policy or practice affecting the homeless they are considered not (or not only) as a problem needing solving, but as people entitled to be treated with dignity.
What advice do you have for someone facing homelessness today?
Contact the council, who have a statutory obligation to help you avoid homelessness; and if you have any difficulties dealing with the council get in touch us, or any of the other volunteers out there who will help you handle it and get the best out of the situation – there are lots of people who want to help you; you are not alone. And I wish you the very best of luck.