If someone is homeless, they are vulnerable by definition. This simple fact has been recognised by the UK Supreme Court in a recent decision on homelessness obligation in the UK. Under the ruling, services must now compare a person’s vulnerability to an ‘ordinary person’ facing homelessness. In the past services in the UK have compared people’s vulnerability to other people experiencing homelessness, which is a harder test to pass given that those already experiencing homelessness are more likely to be dealing with substance misuse and other physical or mental health problems.
The successful legal claim was brought on behalf of 48 year old Partrick Kanu, who experiences mental and physical health problems including hepatitis B and psychotic symptoms. Mr Kanu’s local council decided that he and his family were not a priority for housing because he was in reasonable physical and mental health compared to “another ordinary homeless street person.” Mr Kanu was being cared for by his wife. However, in what is being regarded as a huge victory in the UK homelessness sector, the Supreme Court ruled that such a test can lead to “arbitrary and unpredictable outcomes” and therefore, Mr Kanu’s (or anyone else in a similar position) vulnerability should be established relative to an ordinary person facing homelessness.
This situation is similar to here in Victoria, where people who have substance misuse problems, mental or physical health issues or children are prioritised for accommodation. For a single person experiencing homelessness due to financial hardship alone for example, it’s very difficult to make your way into the already overstretched public housing system. Ultimately the rationing of housing and support services stems from a lack of affordable housing that’s available in Victoria and around Australia.