The government recently announced a £100 million strategy to tackle rough sleeping in England. The publication from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Governmentpresents a series of intervention, recovery and prevention measures they intend to put into place. Through the Rough Sleeping Strategy, the government has set a goal to halve rough sleeping by 2022, and to end it completely by 2027 – an ambitious and impressive target.
Whilst local authority homelessness figures are often estimates based on counting rough sleepers seen on a single night, they do display a clear trend of a consistent increase in homelessness across England. We have seen a rise in the numbers reported as homeless year-on-year since 2010, in every region of the country. Such data, alongside vast charity research, only goes some way in displaying the extent of the homelessness crisis in England. It would be a challenge to overestimate the extent of this problem, and as such, the government’s steps to addressing this growing crisis are to be welcomed.
Homeless people, particularly those with histories of rough sleeping, often have multiple and complex issues with their lives and health. Women, for example, who fail to secure temporary or emergency accommodation and end up sleeping on the streets, often struggle to get support, as many mainstream charity and council provisions are targeted at the majority of rough sleepers, which statistics show are men. Another group with additional vulnerability when homeless, are members of the LGBTQ+ community. It is acknowledged in the strategy that there is a lack of knowledge about this community’s experiences and causes of homelessness, which can be vastly different to those of the non-LGBTQ+ homeless. The strategy outlines plans for further work to fill this gap in understanding. It is vital that the diversity of the homeless community is taken on board, ensuring proposed provisions provide an opportunity for personalized, specialised support; avoiding the temptation to implement ‘one-size-fits-all’ strategies, which can exclude society’s most vulnerable. The ability to do this will rely upon engaging with specialist organisations that can advise on the broad range of people and experiences of those who are homeless, or at risk of being so
One community with arguably among the most complex needs when at risk of homelessness, are non-EEA citizens. Recent migrants and asylum seekers are less likely to have a community to fall back on in times of hardship, reducing opportunities to ‘sofa-surf’. They are often faced with a number of restrictions on benefits and housing support they are able to access which vary based on immigration status, asylum or refugee status, and whether an individual has originated from within the EEA or not. Moving forward, the government must ensure that there are provisions in place to prevent anyone from falling through the cracks – particularly those whose residency in the UK is most insecure.
As the government, charities, and other organisations work towards ending homelessness, perhaps there are questions we need to ask ourselves as individual members of society too: What makes us able to tolerate many of people sleeping on the streets? What makes us see homeless men differently to women? What makes LGBTQ+ and non-EEA rough sleepers different to anyone else? What does it matter to us if someone has an addiction, and why would it make them less worthy of their basic human rights to shelter and food? If these questions are not addressed over the next nine years, it could be predicted that while the building of homes and so on will make a difference in the short term, the acceptance of homelessness being present in society will remain bubbling below the surface, ready to reappear at the next dip in the economy or round of budget cuts.
Through the Together Network, a number of our local Joint Ventures are involved with temporary night shelter provision over winter. Others work with homelessness in a broader sense throughout the year, as well as supporting asylum seekers and refugees as they rebuild their lives in the UK. While a roof over your head and a place to call home is vital, finding a community and sense of belonging are key to maintaining structure, relationships, and ultimately staying off the streets.
We know from experience that the solution to homelessness is beyond the grasp of any one organization, but rather that a collaborative approach is needed, working across organisations, sectors and communities. Achieving the goal of ending homelessness for good by 2027 will require a concerted and coordinated effort, and perhaps the current socio-economic context presents an opportunity to galvanize support for those on the margins of society, and to make significant steps forward in addressing this complex and growing issue.