‘As an Island we do not know the true scale of homelessness’

As reported in the Saturday interview in the Jersey Evening Post on Saturday 1st July. – Picture: Jon Guegan.

The chair of the Jersey Homelessness Strategic Board, Simon Burgess, tells Rod McLoughlin about the challenges of tackling the issue in Jersey.

There are a surprising number of questions to which the chair of the Jersey Homelessness Strategic Board doesn’t have the answers at the moment.

How many people in Jersey can’t afford a decent home? Which age groups are worst affected? How many young people live in accommodation that prevents them from becoming fully productive members of our society? But perhaps the most perplexing for Simon Burgess is the one that appears the simplest: how many homeless people are there in Jersey? Earlier this week, the board – which comprises representatives from a range of organisations and the government working to eradicate homelessness – made its formal submission to the Housing Minister’s consultation on the tenancy law. It argues that the Island’s housing system is in urgent need of redesign.

‘Our homes are fundamental to our health and wellbeing,’ they wrote. ‘Decent, affordable homes support our mental and physical health. When our wellbeing is supported, we’re able to thrive in our work and, as a result, contribute more to our society and economy.’ A conversation with Mr Burgess on this subject turns out to share a disconcerting feature of physical inquiry – things that appeared perfectly straightforward or obvious before you thought deeply about them acquire unexpected complexity the more you ponder them. Take the word ‘homeless’ for example. What does it actually mean? When we think about homeless people, we might think about some cities in Europe where you see people asleep or begging on the streets. We do have some of that in Jersey but not to the same degree you might see in a major city but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The homeless challenge goes deeper than that – there’s this tiny peak that sits at the top but underneath there’s this iceberg, we believe. But still we don’t know,’ Mr Burgess said.