We need more than extra homes to end rough sleeping

31 Jan 2018
by Michael Leng

Last week we learned that more people than ever before were sleeping rough across the country. 

Whilst this was by no means news to us – people who we see are proof of the appalling growth of street homelessness every day – official figures released by the government did at least serve to propel this most acute of issues to wider public consciousness. 

I was, then, pleased to see Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn speak so passionately about this issue in a BBC interview on Sunday morning, where he made the case for providing thousands of extra homes for people sleeping rough. 

A great deal of time, thought and money needs to be invested to prevent the most vulnerable people in our society from falling in through the cracks in support and ending up at rock bottom.

Such a significant pledge is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, not least because it gets people really thinking about this issue. It is, however, important that people, in their understandable enthusiasm for such a measure, don’t fall into a common trap of over-simplifying what in reality is a very complex social issue. 

The inconvenient truth is this: that, for many rough sleepers, it takes a lot more than putting a roof over their head to help them off the streets. Simply offering up more housing only addresses 50% of the problem. 

For example, the majority of rough sleepers supported by our Street Outreach Teams have multiple needs. This means that they are not just homeless; they are also living with several other significant problems – including mental ill-health, substance abuse and psychological trauma due to histories of abuse. 

Those problems will not go away just because somebody is housed; they will go away only as part of a wider, more holistic package of support that is targeted to meet the specific needs of the individual. 

Put simply: they need support as well as housing – support to stay in these homes and support to address and recover from the problems that have led them to become homeless in the first place. 

It is also important that we don’t imagine the rough sleeping population to be static. On a local level our outreach teams are moving people off the streets all the time. The problem is that more people will arrive to take their place. 

By referencing the excellent Clearing House scheme operated by St Mungo’s, it certainly appears that Labour recognise the clear benefits of matching accommodation with a decent offer of support. For accommodation to be an effective route out of homelessness for our most vulnerable citizens, this kind of support simply must be in place with most (if not all) additional accommodation that is developed for people sleeping rough. 

On a broader level, I would also urge Mr Corbyn, and indeed members of the current government, to propose measures that will re-instate elements of our increasingly porous safety-net.

Persistent and disproportionate cuts to prevention and crisis housing-related support funding over a sustained period have been devastating. Alongside this has been the lack of necessary investment in statutory services including probation, mental health and the Police.

A great deal of time, thought and money needs to be invested to prevent the most vulnerable people in our society from falling through the cracks in support and ending up at rock bottom. Until we address the root causes that are driving people onto the streets, no amount of investment in housing alone will significantly address our rough sleeping crisis.

 *Michael Leng is Framework's Operations Director

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