Today’s figures, published in the Rough Sleeping Snapshot 2019, shows that there is still much to do, to support people who are sleeping rough across the UK. At Changing Lives, we believe it isn’t right that 4,266 people go without shelter every night. Chief Executive Stephen Bell argues that it’s time for a new approach to tackling homelessness.
Since 2010 there has been a 141% increase in rough sleeping nationally. Although today’s figures show a slight decrease since last year, not enough is being done to support people who are sleeping rough and in reality little has changed for the people we support. A lack of affordable social housing, changes to the benefits system and a loss of vital support services are just some of the factors that have contributed to the rise in people experiencing homelessness. We also know that ‘rough sleeping’ is only one part of a much wider problem in the UK. For every person sleeping rough, there are others who are part of the ‘hidden homeless’ – people who sofa surf or who rely on temporary accommodation from night to night.
In recent years, support services have become increasingly challenging to deliver because of budget cuts imposed on local authorities. The LGA estimates that local authorities are facing an £8bn funding gap by 2025. Many preventative services have already been lost as the pressure to deliver support at the point of crisis grows.
What we’ve learnt from almost 50 years of supporting people who are experiencing homelessness, is that crisis interventions do not break the cycle of homelessness. We need to start treating housing as a human right and acknowledge that people experiencing tough times can build their own way out of homelessness for the long term if support is person, not system-led. Access to preventative, strengths-based services at an earlier stage allows us to support people at risk of rough sleeping earlier and ensure homelessness is only a brief transitional period, not a life sentence.
The fact is, homelessness does not exist in isolation. People who are sleeping rough, or living in unstable, unsecure housing, often face multiple challenges simultaneously. ONS statistics released last year showed that the number of drug deaths among people experiencing homelessness in 2018 had increased by 55 per cent in the previous year alone – accounting for more than half of all deaths. This shows that the current system – one where support is provided, and funded, in silos – doesn’t work. Instead, we need a cross-sector person-led approach, where people can identify their own goals and make choices about the support they want to help achieve those goals.
We welcome the government’s recent announcement of additional funding to tackle homelessness and a review into the causes of rough sleeping by Dame Louise Casey, which we hope will bring meaningful change. However, further action is needed to replace funding that has been lost over the past ten years, which can provide local authorities with vital resources to focus on prevention and shifting the system that can trap people in homelessness long term.
We believe that in order to end homelessness, we need to rethink the way support is offered. For Changing Lives, this means working to shift our services so they are person-led and re-evaluating how we provide supported housing. We recently announced a regeneration project that will see us turning one of our large hostels into new self-contained apartments, another step towards our ambition for everyone to have their own front door and their own space in which to recover and reintegrate into communities, as quickly as possible.
We are also calling for a commitment to build more genuinely affordable housing which is accessible to the people we work with, to make the benefit system work for people trying to get back on their feet and to fundamentally change the system for people experiencing homelessness to one which is led by the person, not by services.
We need everyone – from charities like ourselves to funders, commissioners and central government – to recognise that the system needs to change.