Last night, the architect George Clarke raised an important issue on Channel 4's 'The Home Show' - it is a scandal that perfectly adequate homes are left empty whilst people sit on council house waiting lists.
At Addaction, we know only too well what a massive difference good quality, stable accommodation can make to a person who is recovering from drug or alcohol problems. A decent flat or house is nothing short of essential for them to achieve lasting recovery. But far too often, they and their families find themselves on housing waiting lists. Nine times out of ten, they're at the bottom of that list.
A few weeks ago, I revisited Addaction's project in Newcastle. There, a dedicated team of staff and volunteers work flat-out to help people rebuild their lives. But, more often than not, the lack a decent home stands in the way. Take, for example, the experiences of Dan and Carlie, a couple in their early twenties whom I met during my visit.
I wrote about Dan and Carlie some time ago. In a previous blog I mentioned that Dan had recently been released from a long-term prison sentence and was heavily addicted to drugs (to diazepam, in particular). Carlie had also been in prison. Both wanted to stop using drugs altogether and put their past behind them. They told me how they had been committed to support each other through their recovery, something that - with the support of both their families and Addaction - they achieved.
But they had to overcome plenty of challenges – such as the lure of old friends who were still engaged in drugs and crime; or the snail-paced bureaucracy of applying for benefits and housing. Both had criminal and prison record, preventing them from getting decent accommodation and employment – the very things that can reduce their dependency on the state and secure their long-term rehabilitation.
As a result, Dan and Carlie now live in poor accommodation, within a stone's throw of their old friends and old haunts. It is an area they desperately want to escape from, but giving up this cold, damp, run-down flat would mean voluntarily becoming homeless and, as a result, they'd be taken off the housing waiting list. They are in a 'catch 22' situation.
Let's be clear. These are two people who had committed burglary and attempted bodily harm. What they did was unacceptable and they deserved punishment for their crimes. But they paid for those crimes. The problem is that they are still paying for them.
Is that right? Should we really condemn them to a life of poverty and welfare dependency in poor housing or should we give them all the support we can to succeed and to make a positive contribution? Should a decent home that would benefit them - and everyone else for that matter - really stand empty while they struggle in one that puts their recovery at risk?