The risk of any one person becoming homeless in England is incredibly unequal depending on many factors, including whereabouts in the country you live; whether you experienced childhood poverty; your experiences as a teenager (e.g. being excluded from school, being in care); and your experiences in early adulthood (e.g. disability or illness, relationships with parents/ partner/ children leaving education early, experiencing unemployment).

In reality this means that a white male, with a middle-class upbringing in the rural South, who has graduated from university, has no partner or children and lives with his parents at age 26, has a probability of having experienced homelessness by the age of 30 of just 0.6%; it’s simply not going to happen to him. In stark contrast, a mixed ethnicity female who has experienced poverty as a child, left school at 16, has had spells of unemployment and rents with no partner but her own children at age 26, has a probability of having experienced homeless by age 30 of 71.2%; it’s highly likely that she will.

In 2015, core homelessness in England stood at 144,000 households (that’s more than 200,000 individuals), an increase by nearly half since 2010. And we seem to be on a upwards trend; 86% of Local Authorities surveyed in 2016 believe that the introduction of Universal Credit will worsen homelessness even further in their area.

These statistics make for harrowing reading, but at CUF we believe that there are real ways in which inequality and homelessness can be tackled and ultimately ended for good. In their 50th year, the national homelessness charity Crisis are currently producing a plan for how to end homelessness, we at CUF are continuing to influence policy with our publication of new research, and our Together Network are working across the country, building capacity for church-run projects that provide both immediate assistance and tackle the root causes of homelessness.

Let’s look to four main priorities for ending homelessness.

A change to public opinion

When the visible chronic homeless began to appear on Britain’s streets in the 1980’s, people were shocked and distressed at seeing homelessness in our own cities. There is now a whole generation, those of us born after the 80’s, who have grown up seeing homelessness as a normal part of society. As with many horrors, we have become both desensitised and discouraged – many people have attitudes to homelessness akin to views on climate change; a problem so large it is beyond intervention.

There is also much misunderstanding about the wider and often invisible homeless; those sofa surfing; in unsuitable temporary accommodation (e.g. B&B’s); those sleeping in tents, cars, public transport; and people squatting. The chronically homeless that we see daily on the street actually only represent only 5-10% of all homeless people, yet to the general public this 5-10% is our representation of homelessness.

We must work to ensure that the true picture of homelessness and a real hope in tackling it is conveyed through our own conversations and those in the media.

Treating homeless people as people

At CUF we strongly support a strengths-based approach to each individual’s journey to flourishing. When we see the poor as having some fault of character and somehow to blame for their situation of homelessness this typically leads to a service being done to a person, which tries to fix perceived shortcomings. Instead, looking first to an individual’s strengths, gifts and assets, allows us to come alongside and work with a person experiencing homelessness, humanising people, and enabling them to empower themselves with positive identities.

The Housing First model (for which Crisis are running a feasibility study for the UK), is a newer approach that embodies these principles, offering permanent, affordable housing as quickly as possible for individuals and families experiencing homelessness, and then providing the supportive services and connections to the community-based support people need to keep their housing and avoid returning to homelessness.

In keeping housing separate to services, a person may lose their property but crucially won’t then with this lose the vital support. Within this model there is a real commitment to staying alongside a person throughout their journey. When a person does recover within this model, they don’t have to move out of their home which has become their security; rather the services simply walk away. The very basic asset of a home to live in takes a person away from the ‘survival mode’ of homelessness and allows them to address the things that are causing their homelessness such as additions and broken relationships.

Policy change

Policy change has historically been the biggest driver in reducing homelessness. Policies that should be considered include structural prevention: increasing housing supply and crucially access to that supply; upstream prevention: addressing childhood poverty and adverse teenage experiences and building supportive social relationships; and systemic prevention: earlier, more flexible, more comprehensive responses to those in crisis, and appropriate support for those with complex needs.

As well as publishing new significant research, CUF’s executive team work relationally with politicians and policy makers to help develop policy that enables human flourishing.

A coordinated effort

For an issue so complex and wide-reaching, collaboration has never been of higher importance. Voluntary groups should wherever possible work with each other and work together with government initiatives to pool wisdom, best practice and resources. At CUF we are committed to working together to end the homelessness crisis.

With thanks to Crisis for inspiring this post at the recent Crisis Conference 2017.