Posted by: Jules Birch29/05/2012
If you missed Britain’s Hidden Homeless last night it’s well worth making time to catch on iPlayer.
The BBC documentary was presented by Speech Debelle, the Mercury-prize winning rapper with personal experience of what she was talking about. She spent three years sofa surfing and in hostels after falling out with her mum at 19 and wrote the opening song of what went on to be her prize-winning first album while in a hostel.
So this was far more than the standard celeb-fronted BBC3 documentary. You believed her when she said that hidden homelessness is three times bigger than the official figures suggest and that things are worse now than they were for her ten years ago.
Scheduling it against 56Up, the latest incarnation of the original reality TV programme, did not do it any favours but Britain’s Hidden Homeless more than justified itself in that kind of company as it presented four interwoven personal stories on the huge continuum from first staying on a friend’s sofa to sleeping in the park.
Sam, 25, was an unemployed graduate whose mother had to downsize who was running out of sofas. Stephen, 26, had been in and out of homelessness since his mum fell out with his stepdad and had spent seven months sleeping rough. Jordan, 20, had been sofa-surfing and sleeping rough (or as he put it, walking around) for four years after falling out with his family. Nikita, 18, left home at 16 after her recovering alcoholic mother moved in with a new boyfriend and was sleeping on her sister’s sofa.
So there were four personal stories that are probably repeated tens of thousands of times around the country. By definition nobody knows how many hidden homeless there really are but instinct suggests that with every other form of housing problem, from sharing and overcrowding to official homelessness and families in bed and breakfast, on the increase it must be too.
The programme avoided sensationalism and showed the grinding monotony of what it’s like to go from place to place and never having one to call home. It showed the good side of housing too, with the organisations and people prepared to help, and a genuinely moving final scene where Stephen finds a six-month tenancy and the luxury of his own backdoor. And it hinted at the way that cuts in housing benefit and support to those organisations are making things worse.
Above all though it left me wondering what will happen if the welfare-cutting ultras get their way on even more cuts in benefits for the under-25s.
From Inside edge
Housing commentator Jules Birch puts the latest news in context