Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government, has said that “Governments have got a huge, real challenge in trying to combat homelessness” and promised “I will talk about it until we have got a change”.
A panel discussion held at the Raddison Blu Hotel as part of the Conservative Party conference was chaired by Edward Davies from the Centre for Social Justice. Speakers included Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis; Brooks Newmark, chair of the Centre for Social Justice’s homeless report; Javid; Bob Blackburn, MP for Harrow East, and Jo Prestidge, innovation and good practice project manager at Homeless Link.
Blackman supported Javid’s promise, and said that his Homelessness Reduction Act that comes into effect in April 2018 will champion the need for the expansion of Housing First to support the Act.
Housing First is a recovery-oriented approach to tackling homelessness. It centres on ‘first’ giving a homeless person housing instead of treating it as a reward, with case workers supporting an initial load of between five to seven people. Providers of Housing First commit to long-term offers of support, and the users’ choices about support they receive do not affect their housing. Local councils with funding would attempt to provide housing but if unable to do so then third-party organisations and charities would step in.
Despite the Act receiving royal assent this year, Javid admitted that: “We have got to do a lot more than that. We have the worst affordability [of housing] of any major country. It is a national outrage.”
The Housing First scheme is not an official part of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, but the Centre for Social Justice, along with Crisis, published a report on homelessness chaired by Newmark in March, in which the expansion of the Housing First model was a key recommendation.
Housing First says it will help people plan for homelessness, separate housing and support, and that private landlords should not be ruled out to help secure accommodation. Newmark’s report also suggests that a staggered implementation of a national Housing First programme should be implemented over a five-year period.
According to Crisis, in 2016 over 59,000 people slept rough, and last week founder of the Big Issue John Bird claimed that Britain is facing its worst winter homelessness crisis in 20 years.
Javid said: “We’ve got to get [the homeless] into a house first and work with them secondly, by slowly helping them deal with their needs. We let them know they have a place over their heads first before we do anything else. One person sleeping rough on our streets is one person too many.”
Blackburn criticised the current system of homelessness reduction. He said: “At the moment, a homeless person goes to the council and asks for help, and it’s still the case that if you are single and homeless you will be triaged. If you don’t have any children, if you don’t have mental health problems, if you don’t have drug addictions, then you’re on your own. There are even people in Manchester who have been urinated on.
“Homeless people are literally rejected by officialdom, which is why we need something like Housing First to prioritise them. That way, councils are given the money to triage everyone, not just the most vulnerable. If councils can’t provide beds, then they would look to third party organisations such as St Mungo’s to house them.”
When questioned how this would be funded, Newmark said: “There’s a duty to refer homeless people to the right people and this will cost around £110m per year. Simply giving someone a house is not a silver bullet. We have to give homeless people the reassurance of a house over their head before we start to deal with their underlying issues. But we understand this will cost money.”
Despite this, there has been no confirmed funding for how Housing First will operate. Housing First England was set up in 2016, funded by Lankelly Chase and Comic Relief. Its aim is to support a national movement of Housing First services.
Prestidge said that making Housing First viable in the UK must be a priority for Theresa May’s Government. She said: “I don’t understand why we have to have more pilots. We can see from studies that this scheme works, so why is it being recommended for piloting when instead it should be rolling out?”
Sparkes agreed with Prestidge, and said that: “I was speaking to homeless people in Manchester just last week. One told me that if he had something like Housing First, he would not have suffered the way he has.”