We all have a role to play in ending homelessness

Homelessness is on the increase and solutions are needed. Everyone in the sector must step up to the plate, argues Carol Matthews

I am very fortunate in my role that I get to travel around the country seeing so many wonderful places. Whether it be an ambitious regeneration project or retirement living scheme, I am always inspired and amazed by the great work we do as a housing sector.  However, during my travels, I haven’t been able to ignore the visible increase in homelessness in recent years.

When I see people on our streets I am reminded that ending and preventing homelessness should be a key priority for all those in the housing sector. Though there is nothing like the visual prompt to remind us of this, we know it is not just visible rough sleeping which has increased in the last decade.

There are now roughly 4,600 people rough sleeping, a huge increase on 10 years ago. On top of this, the latest statistics suggest there are 56,000 people accepted as statutory homeless in a year. In England, more than 80,000 families are in temporary accommodation. 75% of these families have children with them.

This is why homelessness is one of Riverside’s main priorities. Homelessness also seems to be a focus at a national level too. The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) 2017 has been in force for a year now, and the national Rough Sleeper Initiative has begun to reverse the increases of the last decade.

At Riverside, we now have a dedicated Ending Homelessness Working Group to bring together our efforts which is attended by colleagues from across business. This has helped broaden the scope of what we can do on homelessness, including looking at eviction policies and move-on for people in supported accommodation. We see that homelessness is not just a supported housing responsibility, but the role of all teams at Riverside.

The group is working on commitments to national campaigns like Homes For Cathy and the National Housing Federation’s Commitment to Refer, both of which Riverside were proud to sign up to. They are helping us focus on where we can be part of the solution – for instance by supporting local furniture providing charities to provide second hand furniture to tenants – but also where we might be part of the problem, such as too strict eligibility criteria for social housing.

Of course, there is a lot more that is needed to end homelessness, which goes beyond the work of housing associations. The national programmes and pilots of new models like Housing First are welcome; they are a good start not the whole answer. Homelessness is one of the things we’ll be talking to MPs and Council Leaders about when we go to the Party Conferences in the upcoming weeks, so that it isn’t forgotten amongst everything else going on.

There are four areas in particular that we think need to be prioritised, to ensure we all doing what we can:

  • We need to encourage local authority homelessness strategies to recognise the full-housing pathway required to meet the wide-ranging needs of people experiencing homelessness. This includes new models like Housing First, but also high quality hostels and floating support so there is the right option for each individual depending on their needs.
  • There needs to be a national homelessness strategy that focuses not just on rough sleeping, but also on the prevention of homelessness. This strategy should acknowledge how welfare reforms and public sector spending cuts are contributing to it.
  • Support providers should embrace the innovations in practice which are helping people make meaningful and sustainable changes to their lives. Psychologically Informed Environments, Trauma Informed Care and Strength Based Approaches have an increased evidence base demonstrating their effectiveness, and can do more if truly embedded into processes, guidance and specifications by commissioning authorities and national bodies.
  • Commissioners need to view support in an integrated way across the services that provide the support people who are homeless need. People who are homeless often have complex needs crossing mental health, substance misuse, criminal justice and social care responsibilities. We will not stop people falling through the gaps into homelessness if we continue to only meet these needs through homeless specific services.

I regularly see the inspiring work that the housing sector, and those working alongside do in tackling homelessness. We need not only to ensure that this commitment remains, but encourage more organisations to consider how they can play a role in preventing and ending homeless. This will be different for each organisation, whether a housing association, support provider, local authority or the Government, but doing nothing is no longer an option.

Published in Inside Housing on 23 September 2019.