By Caroline Howe, Policy and National Programmes Manager
Amidst all of the fury and political turmoil that has erupted since the Budget was announced, you might have missed that the Chancellor announced additional funding to address homelessness. While this is welcome news, on the very same day the launch of the 2016 Homelessness Monitor painted a starker side of the story, revealing that the national total of rough sleepers has risen by 55% since 2010.
the national total of rough sleepers has risen by 55% since 2010″
The figures show the rate of increase is accelerating right across the country, and are particularly high in London where the total rose by 37% in one year alone.
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis said at the launch, “Homelessness figures tell a grim story, but we know there are solutions out there.” He wasn’t lying. Yet the funding promised in the Budget cannot begin to serve as these solutions, as it will never plug the gap widened by welfare reform and budget cuts. The 1% rent reduction and proposed cap to housing benefit levels alone will put most specialist homelessness and domestic abuse projects out of business, undercutting any gain there might be from the Chancellor’s new funding of 2,000 units of accommodation.
two thirds of local authorities in England believe that welfare reforms have led to increased homelessness in their areas”
More generally, Crisis’s research highlights that two thirds of local authorities in England believe that welfare reforms have led to increased homelessness in their areas. At the same time there have been massive reductions in Supporting People budgets, and all other funding at a local level remains under extreme pressure putting particular strain on locally based charities, as our own research highlights.
These concerns have been highlighted by a range of homelessness charities for some time so it must be good news that Ministers have made a new commitment to the cause in the Budget and are keen to learn how services can be transformed. So far the talk has been of numbers of beds and Social Impact Bonds. It is vital that in developing these plans, Ministers and Civil Servants actively draw on the vital knowledge and experience of small and medium-sized charities and look outside London too.
We need to make sure that the policy and approaches Ministers take forward are grounded in real life experiences”
We need to make sure that the policy and approaches Ministers take forward are grounded in real life experiences and this is where the charities we fund offer perspectives and solutions that the Westminster beltway – indeed much of the homelessness sector itself – may not be aware of.
There are countless examples of great locally-rooted, responsive solutions amongst the small and medium-sized charities we fund. Take for example Justlife in Manchester which specifically focuses on supporting those homeless people who are stuck in privately run hostels, often in conditions little better than the street, but hidden from and typically forgotten by all other mainstream and specialist homelessness services. The charity welcomes anyone to morning drop-in sessions and weekly lunches which helps to secure better engagement in workshops and on to volunteering, employment or enterprise creation. Or look to Community Housing Aid which helps people facing homelessness leaving hospital in Devon or Torbay so they can access the advice and assistance needed that could help keep them off the streets. Or Moving On which supports young people in County Durham who are homeless or vulnerably housed.
The list goes on.
There are countless small, local charities that know the solutions for tackling homelessness and they are putting them into practice day-in, day-out right across the country. At the Foundation, we’re supporting more than 70 projects right across England and Wales through an investment of over £3.7m. These charities are embedded in the communities they serve and have developed their services to meet the needs of the people they work with – our video of how The Bridge Trust in West Kent really brings to light the impact of this flexible approach:
Government will never have the access and expertise to this type of knowledge without engaging with small and medium-sized charities.
There are lessons to learn from looking across the border too – like Community Development Cymru which supports homeless people to better integrate when re-housed in North Wales so there is less chance of them returning to the streets. And at government level in Wales, there is a duty to actively prevent homelessness to help anyone facing losing their home, not just ‘priority’ families. The majority of English local authorities support a move towards such ‘universal’ preventative models and, while Wales may not have a perfect approach to tackling homelessness, providing meaningful help earlier to single homeless people before needs develop and deteriorate has to be a good thing.
We need government in Westminster to take note of all of this learning and the full range of solutions. We need policies that work for today and tomorrow if we don’t want to see homelessness figures continue to rise and the charities that support those affected crippled by rising demand and decreasing resources. Now is the time to bring the solutions that charities know work to the table, including those among the small and medium-sized charities we fund. Government know they exist – they just don’t always look in the right places for the answers, so we want to help charities ensure their expertise is taken on board. If the Homelessness Monitor statistics show us anything, it’s how important it is to implement these solutions now, before any more policies send statistics flying even higher.