What can we do to help tackle the rise in homelessness?

It’s World Homeless Day on October 10, which highlights the issue of people who are homeless in our communities. Riverside Care and Support provides accommodation and support for people experiencing homelessness, and John Glenton, Riverside’s Executive Director of Care and Support, explains what we are doing to increase our impact in tackling the current rise in homelessness.

Tackling and preventing the rise in homelessness is a key objective within Riverside’s new corporate plan. Nationally, homelessness has more than doubled in the last five years and in some cities, such as Manchester, it has increased almost ten-fold over the same period. 

Riverside Care and Support has a long history of working with people who are homeless, and we are the third largest provider of services in the country. Last year we worked with 11,000 people who had experienced homelessness or were at risk of becoming homeless, supporting 5,000 to move into permanent accommodation. Many of our customers have experienced a range of different issues, including: mental health conditions, substance misuse issues, offending backgrounds, childhood trauma, and financial difficulties.

There are many reasons why homelessness has risen at such a staggering rate. Contributory factors include welfare reform, private sector rents and tenancy issues resulting in more single people and families losing their homes. 

All these people are individuals with different circumstances and aspirations. They do, however, have one thing in common, they are all struggling to secure and sustain appropriate accommodation.

Homelessness can have a severe and lasting effect on health. Crisis research says the average life expectancy of a rough sleeper is 47 years, which is 32 years less than an average male and 35 years less than an average female in the UK, according to the latest ONS statistics. Rough sleepers are six times more likely to attend A&E, are admitted to hospital four times as often and stay three times as long as the housed population.

The question is therefore, what can we do to help tackle and prevent the rise in homelessness?

Through our new corporate plan we have set out our case. We are keen to work with partners to develop more person-led solutions, such as the ‘Housing First’ model. We are a national provider of services, yet we pride ourselves on delivering tailored services at local level, and working with our customers to produce person-centred solutions which enables us to respond to local issues effectively.

A great example of where we have worked locally with customers to design and deliver services is our Street Buddies scheme in Westminster, which has been shortlisted for a Team London Award run by Mayor Sadiq Khan. The outreach service is led by people with lived experience of homelessness and rough sleeping to help entrenched rough sleepers off the streets by supporting and rehousing them. We need to find ways of funding and sustaining projects like this across the country in these challenging times. We share with Riverside colleagues what we learn, as well as with other organisations who share our vision and values.

Council budgets are continually being squeezed, meaning we have to diversify our income streams so we continue on our good work. In response, we have set up our own Social Impact Fund to enable us to expand the work we do and deliver on a payment by results basis. We are optimistic about the impact we can make using this approach.

Providing a roof over a person’s head is just one aspect of combatting homelessness. Helping people to access bank accounts, employment, the internet, and volunteering are all key ways we can support independence and social connectedness which will be key in helping to tackle the current rise in homelessness.

Tackling and preventing homelessness is challenging, but we have a clear plan that we believe will increase the impact our work will have on the lives of our customers.