Rough Sleeping Strategy – Response from Stephen Bell OBE - My CMS

The government has today announced its strategy to end homelessness, with £100m of funding to end rough sleeping by 2027.

Although Changing Lives broadly supports the government’s £100m strategy to tackle rough sleeping in England, we feel that the strategy doesn’t go far enough to prevent the continuing rise in homelessness.

The £100m funding accompanies a new strategy which will focus on a three-step process of prevention, intervention and recovery to try and reduce rough sleeping. However, not all of this funding is new money, but rather money already allocated to the government’s homeless strategy and just reprioritised to fit the newly-announced plan to end rough sleeping in the next 9 years.

To take truly sustainable steps towards ending rough sleeping, there is a need for long-term revenue spend: resources are needed to help charities focus on preventing homelessness by offering a range of quality accommodation and support services.

Since Changing Lives was founded in Newcastle in 1970, we have striven to address the issues that cause homelessness before sleeping on the streets is the only option left for someone. We know that people experiencing childhood trauma and traumatic events later in life are more likely to become homeless. Mental health and addiction, plus lack of access to services that respond appropriately to the needs of people who are rough sleeping, can keep people on the streets even when housing is available.

We are in support of the focus on prevention in this strategy, with a commitment to understand the issues that lead to rough sleeping and provide timely support for those at risk. We are particularly supportive of the announcement that there will be funding earmarked to support drug and alcohol services. About £30 million will be spent on mental health help and treatment for substance misuse as part of the proposals.

As an established housing provider in the North East through our subsidiary company, TCUK Homes, we are only too aware of the problems arising from the out-of-control housing market coupled with a focus on home ownership for the past 8 years.

The 2016/17 English Housing Survey published in January 2018 found that on average, those buying their home with a mortgage spent 18% of their household income on mortgage payments whereas rent payments were 28% of household income for social renters and 34% of household income for private renters. These high costs of renting push people further into poverty and may result in them losing their homes and ending up on the streets.

In addition, private rented housing is often the only option for people we are helping off the streets but if this is not affordable then the cycle of homelessness can perpetuate. We are still awaiting the delayed Social Housing Green paper and unless genuinely affordable housing, with rents not linked to the private sector, is prioritised, then rough sleeping will be difficult to end.

This issue is further exasperated by the arrears-based Universal Credit system. Welfare reform has meant that the poorest people in our society have become poorer, and less able to afford to their housing costs. The benefits freeze and caps, bedroom tax, delays in Universal Credit payments (forcing people to go into debt), harsh sanctions for people not meeting unrealistic targets for job hunting, plus rising inflation and housing costs, mean that many more people are struggling, including people in work whose wages have not kept pace with inflation.

We have witnessed people we support face a vicious cycle of evictions from hostels and temporary accommodations to sleeping on the streets because of Universal Credit and the consequential arrears. Private renting is almost impossible on the Universal Credit system, with many landlords outright refusing to accept tenants on the benefits, and prospective tenants provided no opportunity to save up the payments needed to secure a private tenancy whilst living in arrears.

Providing a lump sum of funding, whether it is all new money or ‘reprioritised’, doesn’t address the societal and systemic issues that lead to the exclusion of people experiencing homelessness from mainstream services and to the exclusion of a fair chance at a brighter future.

As we’ve seen just this week, with the trial of QR codes for people on the streets of Oxford, society is more comfortable treating people on the streets as groceries to scan than people to talk to. We need to recognise people on the streets as people first, build relationships with them and find out what their hopes and aspirations are to guide the support we provide. It is the only way we can effectively and sustainably end homelessness and change lives.

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