New homelessness boards

    Administrative tinkering or an opportunity to end rough sleeping for good?

    Photo of Rory Weal, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer
    Rory Weal, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer

    Last week the Government finished its first stage of consultation on a shake up to local authority structures for tackling homelessness. Changes to statutory structures may not be something that gets the heart racing, but when it comes to delivering the changes and funding needed to end rough sleeping for good, they could have a key role to play, writes Rory Weal, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer for St Mungo’s.

    Rough sleeping – the most dangerous form of homelessness – has risen by 165% since 2010. This is the result of spiralling housing costs, increasing insecurity for private renters and cuts to services that prevent homelessness – all problems that require national Government to act.

    And yet, it is actually local authorities who are charged with the primary day-to-day responsibility for tackling homelessness. Since the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) came into force last year, this responsibility has expanded to include providing advice and support to anyone at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness.

    What are Homelessness Reduction Boards?

    The latest government proposal – to create Homelessness Reduction Boards in local authorities – builds on the positive momentum achieved by the HRA, and the Rough Sleeping Strategy, to get a grip on the growing homelessness crisis in England. The proposal is an attempt to ensure all relevant public services and agencies step up as members of these new boards, and they are held to account for their part in preventing and reducing homelessness and rough sleeping.

    So far so good. But as many of us know, central Government hasn’t made this job easy for local authorities of late.

    A challenging backdrop

    Recent research from St Mungo’s and Homeless Link, published last month, shows that local authority spending on services for single homeless people fell by 53% between 2008-09 to 2017-18. This drop is the result of cuts in funding from central government, particularly impacting ‘Supporting People’ services, which focus on helping people to avoid and escape homelessness. Add to this the wider issues of a lack of social rented housing, unaffordability and instability in the private rented sector, and welfare reforms, and we see a dangerous combination of factors which have increased individuals’ vulnerability to homelessness.

    So with such a challenging backdrop, how can an administrative change really be expected to deliver the impact required to end rough sleeping? The short answer is that on its own, it can’t.

    But there are a couple of reasons why this is a more than worthwhile exercise:

    • Firstly, because at the local level there is a huge variation in the way any strategic response to homelessness is developed, implemented and monitored. Sometimes this means that elements of the ‘system’, such as health services, are failing to play their part.
    • Secondly, because we believe these new structures could be the vehicles for central Government to deliver the resources councils need to tackle the problem.

    Investing the funding that’s needed

    We believe Homelessness Reduction Boards – or a similar set-up where good oversight and accountability is assured – should provide Government with the confidence to invest the extra £1 billion in homelessness services that we know is needed. Having mandatory structures closely scrutinising what services deliver, key partners such as the NHS, prisons and children’s services working to prevent homelessness, and collecting data to demonstrate and respond to this, should satisfy Government that each pound will be spent effectively.

    The jury is still out on the impact this could have. As always the devil will be in the detail. The principles of these new Boards, however, seem sound and provide an opportunity to secure the funding desperately needed for homelessness services.

    This shouldn’t avert our focus from the other vital changes required – including building more social homes and improving private renting. Only when these solutions come together will we see everyone have a home for good, and a country in which no one faces the injustice of sleeping rough.

    Read our full response to the consultation.

    Click here to call on your MP to help reverse the cuts to homelessness services and make sure everyone has a Home for Good.

    Should we talk about death?

    Palliative Care

    Our Palliative Care Coordinator Andy Knee poses this important question and highlights the innovative ways our Palliative Care Service is supporting clients who are at risk of death or in need of bereavement support.

    Should we talk about death? In St Mungo’s Palliative Care team, we think the simple answer to this question is yes.

    Death is something that affects us all, that does not discriminate against gender, race, sexuality, culture, or religion. Many of us are fortunate to talk about death and our wishes with loved ones. But what if you don’t have a home? And what if you don’t have family or loved ones to have these conversations with?

    This is a sad reality for lots of people who experience homelessness. A reality where many of their deaths will be preventable, undignified and untimely, with no planning for their wishes, and sadly many will be forgotten.

    In 2017 there were an estimated 597 deaths of homeless people in England and Wales, which represents a 24% increase since 2013. The NHS has recently reported a rise in homeless patients returning to the streets with many observing a surge in serious illnesses in the past decade such as respiratory conditions, liver disease, and cancer. Without someone to be their voice and their advocate, many individuals will be trapped in a harmful cycle of being admitted to hospital and discharged to the streets. This is something we can change.

    Dying Matters Week 2019

    ‘Are we ready?’ is the poignant theme of this year’s Dying Matters Week, which helps to raise awareness around this issue. At the end of 2018 we responded to the increase in homeless deaths and continue to pave the way in making change for people experiencing homelessness. We know the importance of providing end of life care and support to our clients, and we are using creative and innovative new ways to provide this service.

    Our Palliative Care Service

    To mark Dying Matters Week, we’re shining a light on our Palliative Care Service. This service is the only one of its kind in the homelessness sector and has benefited from dedicated funders over the last five years.

    The purpose of the Palliative Care Service is to coordinate a flexible and responsive care pathway to support clients who have a terminal prognosis or acute and potentially fatal health conditions, and to provide them with options that protect their quality of life. The service works to ensure that our clients can access healthcare and that we provide appropriate support to help them approach the end of their life with dignity and respect.

    We meet with local health services, lead change with research, and continue to develop tools and support structures for St Mungo’s. We’re also here to support staff across St Mungo’s to feel empowered and discuss death as openly as possible.

    Our aim is to ensure that everyone experiences a ‘good death’. We are also working to destigmatise this term, which holds so much power and importance.

    New Befriending Service

    This year the service has expanded to include our Palliative Care Volunteer Coordinator, and in June 2019, St Mungo’s will launch a new Befriending Service.

    The Befriending Service will serve to support clients that are at risk of death, or clients who need bereavement support for a recent or historical loss. In addition, the Befriending Service will support colleagues and teams around loss and bereavement, reinforcing our message: “you are not alone”.

    In response to the theme of Dying Matters Week – “Are we ready?” – St Mungo’s can proudly say “We are, and will continue to be.”

    Find our more about our Palliative Care Service.

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