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By Calum Rosie

Calum Rosie is a writer based in Edinburgh, and is a correspondent for Immigration Advice Service. He writes about his personal views on social housing as it relates to a Wellbeing Economy, for WEAll’s ‘Wellbeing Economy Correspondents’ guest blog series.

Wellbeing Economy Correspondents is a series highlighting the first-hand experiences of individuals who have witnessed Wellbeing Economy principles, practices, and policies being implemented in all different contexts around the world. Our correspondents support WEAll’s mission to establish that a Wellbeing Economy is not only a desirable goal, but also an entirely viable one.

All views or opinions expressed in the ‘Wellbeing Economy Correspondents’ blog series are personal views of the guest author and do not reflect the views of the WEAll global Amp team.

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Access to safe, high-quality housing is incredibly important for the wellbeing of any human being, and yet, there are thousands upon thousands of people sleeping rough every single night all across the world. 

In England alone, over 200,000 people are classified as homeless, with that number rising over the past year thanks to economic instability caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a Wellbeing Economy, housing would be an absolute priority and the housing system would work for the betterment of all by guaranteeing a safe, secure home for every person, and by establishing the importance of the tenant’s wellbeing over that of the landlord’s profits. This would be in contrast to the UK’s current housing system and government policies, which have allowed our society’s most vulnerable to be thrown out of their homes at the whim of a landlord.

Housing the ‘Unhoused

Several charities and other social enterprises across the UK are stepping in to address this issue and provide housing to our society’s most vulnerable. Edinburgh-based charity Social Bite has partnered with social care charity, Cyrenians, to combat the city’s housing crisis by building the Social Bite Village, an incredibly ambitious project designed to provide a safe and supportive place for Edinburgh’s ‘unhoused’ to live and recover.

Social Bite, along with many other charities tackling the housing issue, prefer the term ‘unhoused’, because ‘homeless’ implies no causation, whereas ‘unhoused’ implies the individual is without a home due to the failure of those meant to provide them. 

Social Bite’s founders began by employing unhoused people in their café, and then offered the option for customers to pay forward food and drink to be given to those who would otherwise struggle to pay. These efforts have escalated into a nationwide initiative to tackle homelessness in the most direct way: by providing high-quality homes with additional mental health support. 

Celebrities like George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio have supported the charity in the past, due to its universal appeal and strongly moral yet simple message:

everyone can and should be given a second chance in life. 

While still in the planning stages, the idea for a “Social Village” proved incredibly popular and has garnered huge international support

The first Big Sleep Out event to raise money for the project saw the likes of Liam Gallagher and John Cleese perform in front of thousands of people camping out in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens. 

What is the Social Bite Village?

The ‘Social Bite Village’ can accommodate up to 20 people, all living together in a community. It is designed to get previously unhoused residents used to living with other people and encourages them to work cooperatively, with residents socialising, cooking, and gardening together in a shared space. The aim is to tackle the isolation that often comes with being unhoused – sometimes just throwing someone in a home isn’t quite enough to help them improve their lives.

To that end, mental health support workers supplied by Cyrenians are onsite 24 hours a day to help teach residents important life skills for use in the future, and to provide general mental health support if it is needed. 

This is an incredibly important aspect of the village: 85% of unhoused people report having mental health problems.

So, it’s fantastic to see that Social Bite is dedicated to supporting the residents holistically and ensuring that their mental and physical wellbeing is looked after.

This sets the Social Bite Village apart from other social housing projects in the country, many of which are little more than money-making schemes which disregard the needs and the safety of their tenants. To understand their priorities, see the Trustpilot reviews of Clarion Housing Association, one of the UK’s largest and most profitable housing associations…

and compare them with the CEO’s salary.

Success to date

Social Bite’s success is hard to argue with: they claim that over 400 people are now housed thanks to their stay in the Social Bite Village.

Other charities are now following their example and constructing their own social homes. The next step is to convince governments the world over that housing every single person, regardless of wealth or circumstances, whether they are already a citizen, or are seeking indefinite leave to remain, deserves to be housed safely.

In a Wellbeing Economy, this type of housing system would be commonplace, and would be a part of a holistic care system that ensures that everyone in the country is supported, happy, and healthy. 

Social Bite proves that this is not only possible but very realistic, if only we can reframe our priorities and our assumptions of what can be done to help our most vulnerable citizens.