• The answers to homelessness are out there - we must stop ignoring them

The answers to homelessness are out there - we must stop ignoring them

"The development of stronger partnerships is crucial to having an effective and co-ordinated approach to addressing rough sleeping and homelessness."

Chan Kataria, Group Chief Executive

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At a recent meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) I gave evidence on homelessness in the East Midlands. The facts are stark. There were 358 rough sleepers in the East Midlands on a single night in the autumn of 2018 – a 14 per cent increase on the previous year and a staggering 198% increase since 2010. Shockingly, 28 people identified as rough sleepers died in 2017.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and doesn’t begin to capture the extent and scale of homelessness in all its guises. Over a year ago, as part of the European End Street Homelessness Campaign, emh group joined forces with local agencies to do a street count and understand how people got there. In Leicester alone the volunteers interviewed 93 people who were sleeping out on a very cold night. This story can be told many times over in most of our towns and cities.

The causes are well known. For instance, our volunteers in Leicester found that most of the respondents had mental health issues and the system had failed to pick them up at an earlier stage. The old adage that we’re all a couple of decisions away from facing a similar fate is true. Some of the people had a relationship breakdown or lost their jobs. Many are refugees with nowhere to go.

The answers are also not new. There is no one solution that fits all circumstances and at emh group we are working on a three pronged approach: prevention, temporary solutions and longer-term solutions.

Our prevention strategies include tenancy sustainment initiatives such as financial advice and support. Over the last five years, emh group’s financial inclusion officers raised £4m on behalf of residents who would have otherwise had higher debts. We have signed up to the duty to refer under the Homelessness Reduction Act and are developing customer data and insight as part of a joint project with the NHF on ‘Hacking Homelessness’. The outcome of this project will be a toolkit to help us understand the characteristics of people who are evicted, so that we may prevent this from happening more effectively.

Palliative approaches are also important. In emh group we have nine short term hostels to meet the temporary needs of those such as under-25s and single parent families. These hostels are over-subscribed and over the last year we had 290 referrals for 65 bed spaces. Such facilities are not long term solutions but can play a crucial role in getting people out of harm’s way and into a safe environment.

The right level of support and intervention can make a huge difference at a critical point in someone’s life. However, this does require sufficient funding through the welfare system and the uncertainties around the security of such funding is not helpful.

Ultimately, the underlying problem is the lack of access to decent affordable homes for those who need them. The answer therefore is to ensure sufficient funding is available to deliver the recommendations set out in the Affordable Housing Commission, which argues strongly for the need for 3.1m social rented homes over the next 20 years.

In the meantime, homeless households need to be given priority for rehousing in the existing allocations systems. At emh group, in the year to date, we housed around 200 statutorily homeless households into permanent tenancies. This may not be enough, but it’s a start.

We are also pleased to be leading Leicester’s first Housing First Pilot in partnership with the city council. Our aim is to work with the local authority by providing immediate access to permanent housing for rough sleepers, allowing their needs to be assessed in a safe and secure environment.

As a minimum, the housing sector should adopt the principles set out in the World Habitat’s approach to addressing street sleeping. These include: increasing the supply of affordable homes; having a welfare system that provides a secure environment for social tenants and landlords; stronger partnerships; and, more funding for housing first initiatives.

Above all else the development of stronger partnerships, particularly at the ground level, is crucial to having an effective and coordinated approach to addressing rough sleeping and homelessness. We as a housing sector cannot do this on our own.

What became apparent at the APPG is that this issue transcends party politics. It is a humanitarian issue and there is consensus that we cannot afford to ignore this crisis in what is the fifth richest country in the world.