The current coronavirus outbreak has prompted rapid action to help people at risk of sleeping rough into emergency accommodation. The prevailing circumstances have also triggered a rethink of policies for responding to the issue of homelessness. However, as we've seen from the work Neil Morland & Co is currently carrying out, we must urgently build on these achievements.
National and local governments have steered efforts to help people at risk of homelessness get somewhere safe to stay during the current coronavirus outbreak. The UK Government recently published an open letter thanking all English local authorities for their efforts to help 5,400 people off the streets. Birmingham City Council alone arranged emergency accommodation for more than 50 people that would have otherwise continued to sleep rough.
Housing associations, voluntary organisations and others have transformed their services to assist people to find accommodation and continue to have their needs met. The Pioneer Group has launched a 10-point community offer to the residents and the neighbourhoods its serves in Birmingham. Social Bite are delivering free food to people who are socially isolating throughout Scotland. AdviceAid have published dedicated housing options advice for people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness during the COVID-19 outbreak.
These tremendous efforts to prevent homelessness have been achieved during what has been a hugely challenging time for every organisation and individual.
Moving out of lockdown
It will be necessary to continue measures put in place as a response to homelessness during the coronavirus outbreak, for as long as the current lockdown restrictions remain in force, but suitably adapt them as changes are made to ease social distancing rules.
For as long as the present circumstances prevail, people occupying emergency accommodation that otherwise might be sleeping rough, will need to continue receiving support for a range of matters. Evaluations Neil Morland & Co has carried out evaluations of services commissioned via the Welsh Government’s Supporting People programme and has identified the following success factors when helping people who have a history of street homelessness:
1. Treatment of any existing or new health conditions, to improve wellbeing
2. A support worker to help identify and pursue goals for positive change
3. A plan to make an informed move from the streets or emergency accommodation to mainstream housing.
4. A personalised budget to help realise move-on plans and achieve identified positive changes
The importance of working together and shared learning
As housing is a devolved governmental policy matter, there are individual strategies for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to respond to the needs of people at risk of homelessness. However, it is important for organisations throughout the UK, from all sectors, seize opportunities for shared learning and for joint working, to improve the success of action taken to prevent homelessness. From the work done by us throughout Britain, we have assembled a remarkable knowledge-base of what works across the nations, which we actively seek to share.
Joint working shouldn’t just be limited to professionals. Any activities that are intended to prevent homelessness, should always be devised with people who are, or have previously, experienced homelessness. One of the many reasons for their involvement, is that they are uniquely placed to identify what works. The award-winning Experts By Experience Network (Newcastle & Gateshead) is a great example of how professionals and people with experience of homelessness can work together to change and improve systems and services.
Planning to tackle homelessness
Learning from national guidance on how to write a homelessness strategy, which Neil Morland & Co produced for the Local Government Association, shows the aim of any plan to tackle homelessness should be two-fold:
1. Stop people from becoming homelessness in the first place
2. Equip organisations to provide a quality response to the needs of people at risk of homelessness
Pursuit of these two objectives should avoid lots of people spending lengthy periods of time repeatedly being homeless or facing multiple threats of homelessness.
Research we jointly carried out with Heriot Watt University I-SPHERE on homelessness prevention, for the Local Government Association, revealed that any person at risk of homelessness can get help from local authorities, with specific measures being used with people who are more likely to experience homelessness, such as:
1. People who have no accommodation to occupy
2. People who have accommodation, but are facing a threat of exclusion or eviction.
3. People for whom its unacceptable to remain in their existing accommodation, due to domestic abuse, hazardous or intolerable property conditions, overcrowding, affordability problems, or otherwise.
Actions to prevent homelessness
Projects Neil Morland & Co are currently completing with local authorities, housing associations and voluntary organisations have reaffirmed that, irrespective of why a person might become homeless, everyone needs the following:
1. An assessment of their housing and support needs
2. Advice on housing options and rights
3. Assistance to maintain their existing home, or where this is not possible or safe, obtain alternative accommodation
4. Support to deal with personal, financial and health factors
5. Counselling to overcome individual traumas associated with a threat or an occurrence of homelessness
As we formulate plans for preventing homelessness following the coronavirus outbreak, there will need to be:
1. Emergency accommodation for people who have nowhere to stay.
2. Negotiation and advocacy for people being asked to leave their accommodation or threatened with eviction, to help them continue occupying their existing home.
3. A supply of affordable housing for any person who is homeless or threatened with homelessness.
4. Specific measures for people who are victims of domestic abuse, can no longer can afford their housing costs, are living in poor housing conditions, and whose home is overcrowded, to ensure they have reasonable accommodation to occupy.
5. Support for people due to leave prison, discharge from armed forces, and other institutional discharge, to avoid them having nowhere to stay and help them retain any accommodation secured.
6. Support for people with financial issues, loss of job/unemployment, poverty and welfare benefits, to help them remain in their existing accommodation or to obtain alternative accommodation
7. Support for people with physical health, mental health, and substance misuse to help remain in their accommodation.
8. Counselling to help people recover from violence, harassment, abuse, bereavement, relationship breakdown, arguments with parents, or domestic abuse, to help them successfully occupy or continue occupying their accommodation.
Resourcing the above activities will require extra revenue and capital funding beyond what has already been allocated by national and local governments for tackling homelessness. Additional skilled and knowledgeable workers will need to be recruited, trained and supervised. More IT hardware and software will be necessary, plus an increased supply of decent accommodation will be required. With the anticipated increased public debt arising from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, we will have to look at new ways of funding homelessness prevention action. Additional funding will continue to be needed from national governments. Local governments can consider making use of reserves to fund more homes and support services. Other options could include:
1. Use of social finance to build new affordable housing.
2. Use of modular homes on brownfield public land, such as the LivShare housing model
3. Allowing local authorities to levy a precept on Council Tax to pay for homelessness initiatives.
The challenges will be quite extraordinary for some time to come therefore a range of innovative solutions are needed.
The current coronavirus outbreak has re-emphasised how widespread homelessness is throughout theUK. Unprecedented strategies have been adopted to help people at risk of homelessness to remain at home and stay safe during the coronavirus outbreak, but these need to be continued and expanded in the future. This necessitates a new framework for homelessness prevention, to ensure we have a strong foundations for collective action to pursue the common goal of ending homelessness.