Leaving the streets isn’t easy, but being HomelessWise is.

    In this long read, Outreach Coordinator for our Tower Hamlets team, Leon, discusses the complexities of supporting people away from homelessness and how you can help in two easy steps.

    Leaving the streets isn’t easy, but being HomelessWise is.

    For me, our HomelessWise campaign is another example of how partnership working is central to the success of supporting our rough sleeping community. With the public’s support we can help people move away from the streets and towards healthy and fulfilling lives. Best of all, you can help us in just two easy steps:

    • Step one – Smile: A simple, but powerful gesture. Smiling or saying hello to someone sleeping rough could make their day and boost their self-esteem.
    • Step two – StreetLink: By letting StreetLink know if you see someone sleeping rough, you are helping to connect them to expert support that can help them leave the streets behind.

    The next step, Support, is where I and the rest of the team come in.

    First, a bit about me…

    I was born in England but moved to Edinburgh within my first year. I lived with my mum in different Thatcher era council estates. Music was my escape from some tough times growing up. From these musical roots, I’ve carried creativity and innovation into my work with people sleeping rough in East London.

    And a bit about the team…

    We reflect the locality we live in. We have representation from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, which is vital for supporting people away from the streets, particularly as we communicate to people early in the morning or late at night. Our diverse representation helps us overcome barriers of language, culture, and faith – giving the people we work with the best opportunity to maximise their time working with us.

    Between us we have expansive local street knowledge, years of experience of working with vulnerable people, as well as passion and an ability to work under pressure. We also have knowledge of local services, welfare rights and, particularly important in the current climate, an understanding of navigating immigration cases in partnership with St Mungo’s Street Legal service, Praxis and partnerships law firms, like the Tower Hamlets Law CentreDuncan Lewis and Tamson’s Solicitors.

    We are blessed to have a dedicated team which includes roles specialising in health and supporting women, as well as strong partnerships with other impressive local agencies, including NHS Rough Sleeping Mental Health Team and Providence Row.

    Our day to day…

    In outreach our day either starts early or finishes late. Morning shifts start at 5am and evening shifts finish anywhere from midnight to 2am.

    The first thing I do in the morning is check our referrals from StreetLink, which is run by St Mungo’s in partnership with Homeless Link. The StreetLink team field calls and monitor alerts which they use to drop pins upon geographical locations. They are sent to us and we start organising and prioritising people in need of support.

    Then we will head out and start to look for people. But it’s not just a matter of finding them – people don’t always want our help at first. This is because many people sleeping rough have had negative experiences with other services in the past so it’s hard for them to trust us. Not to mention that it’s very early in the morning – I know if someone woke me up at 5am I wouldn’t be too happy!

    It’s our job to build a relationship and encourage people to accept our support. You have to put yourself in a rough sleeper’s shoes – there is a lot to think about when you approach a homeless person. What should my opening be? What is my body language like? How much eye contact is friendly and how much is threatening? There is a lot of skill involved in being an Outreach Worker and it can take time to learn how to approach people.

    At around 9 or 10am, we head back to the office. Anyone we have been able to engage with will come back with us. They are given a hot meal and we’ll have a chat so I can work out the best way to help. I’ll also follow up with people we have met on previous shifts. Although we’re the first point of contact for people sleeping rough, we don’t just forget about them once they’re off the streets. There are many people we have supported throughout their journey to recovery.

    One person I’m particularly proud of is someone we first came across at the start of the pandemic. He had been homeless for years – lots of different teams across London had met him before, but he never wanted to accept help. He was a heroin user and was in a very dysfunctional relationship. But last year, we finally managed to get through to him. We found him a place in emergency accommodation and now, just a year later, he’s living in his own flat. It’s cases like that that make the job so rewarding.

    As well as being out on the streets, we also run a hub just off Brick Lane in the heart of Whitechapel in partnership with Providence Row. This gives rough sleepers a place to make contact with us throughout office hours. This consistent availability allows us to work with people to identify potential accommodation and put support in place to help them move away from the streets.

    We also have emergency bed spaces available to us – these are held for people fleeing violence, people with underlying physical health conditions, or other supporting needs that we deem as high risk.

    Before I go home I will hand over to the night shift team with a report on the day. But even when I’m at home, work is still on my mind. We can’t support everyone off the streets immediately. At night, I often worry about the people I have seen on the streets, especially women who often face exploitation. I wonder where they are and what they’re doing. And I hope that one day we will get through to them too.

    We never give up on people

    At Mungo’s we have a ‘never give up’ attitude when working with the rough sleeping community. During the pandemic our team has supported hundreds of people – in March 2020 alone, we supported over 130 people off the streets. The team’s response to this global emergency was simply heroic and demonstrated that with communal responsibility and action, we can end homelessness.

    However, sometimes even when people do engage with us, there are no immediate options for people off the streets. This is the most frustrating aspect of our work. There are lots of complex reasons why this might be the case – some may have compromised their placements locally, others may have exited prison without a supporting network and an accommodation option. In the current climate, the days of guaranteed offers for offenders coming out of prison have diminished significantly. We see people who have absconded from hospitals, being cuckooed out of their flats by street gangs and people fleeing domestic violence – the variables are extreme and can be totally different person by person, day by day.

    If there are delays in placing people sleeping rough, we have to exercise our specific knowledge of welfare rights and the Homeless Reduction Act. We offer street assessments, so we can gather sufficient information on someone’s local connections to towns and cities in the UK and offer them to return. We can sometimes refer people straight into the private rented sector, via locality agencies, where our commitment to partnership work has resulted in some great outcomes for people.  We can also offer people routes to their original boroughs in London, cities in Britain, and reconnecting people to Europe and beyond.  This service is for people with no eligibility in the borough or coming from different parts of the world.

    Our commitment to ensuring everybody has options when in crisis is unyielding. Leaving the streets isn’t easy, but we will continue working day and night to reach people and support them into accommodation – and you can help us!

    See miracles in life everyday…

    You can support our work in two easy steps: smiling and using StreetLink. Why are these steps important?

    Studies have shown that smiling releases endorphins, other natural painkillers, and serotonin. Together, these brain chemicals make us feel good from head to toe. Not only do they elevate your mood, but they also relax your body and reduce physical pain. Smiling is a natural drug. Next time you walk past a homeless person, stop, make eye contact, smile and say hello. If you feel comfortable, giving someone a few moments on top can give them a feeling of recognition, dignity, and even hope. If our society is going to grow, we all know that our future generations will remember how we treated the worst off in the world.

    This interaction costs nothing and if you see them sleeping rough, take another five minutes and complete a StreetLink referral. That few minutes may help us identify a person in critical need of support and care. You will be helping us, help people achieve a pathway to somewhere they can call home. For us at the Tower Hamlets Street Outreach Team, that is our primary objective, which we will continue to fight for 24/7.

    Find out more about our HomelessWise campaign here. 

    The new NHS plan for mental health services has a clear offer for people sleeping rough

    For organisations who have campaigned for many years on homeless health, the NHS Mental Health Implementation Plan is a cause for celebration. Beatrice Orchard, St Mungo’s Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research, explains why the plan must deliver on its ambition to make sure everyone sleeping rough can access the mental health support they need.

    Photo of Beatrice Orchard, Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research
    Beatrice Orchard, Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research

    When the Government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy was published exactly one year ago by MHCLG, there were some positive signs that other government departments would also be doing their bit to reverse the dramatic rise in the number of people sleeping rough in England.

    One of the most solid commitments was in relation to improving mental health support for people who are sleeping on the streets. Last month, the details of this commitment became clearer when the NHS Mental Health Implementation Plan was published.

    The plan is clear that by 2023-24, 20 areas with high levels of rough sleeping will have established new specialist mental health provision for people sleeping rough, which will be made possible with £30m of central NHS funding invested for this specific purpose.

    This is a fantastic result for St Mungo’s Stop the Scandal campaign and our continued efforts to press the Government for investment in specialist mental health services to ensure people sleeping rough can access the support they need.

    Sleeping rough and mental health – the links

    It is fairly easy to understand that sleeping rough has a negative impact on a person’s mental health and wellbeing, as well as their physical health.

    Evidence shows people sleeping rough are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence compared to the general population. News reports describe horrifying attacks and abuse on people sleeping rough and our clients tell us about their experiences of feeling lonely, frightened and even suicidal.

    Furthermore, we mustn’t overlook the fact that some people sleeping rough have already been through many traumatic experiences in their lives, including violence and abuse from a young age.

    All of these experiences can cause mental health problems to develop or worsen, but also impact on the type of mental health support people need and how easy they find services to access.

    New avenues into support

    The new, NHS-funded, specialist services will make sure that people sleeping rough can access to clinical mental health support by integrating with existing homeless outreach, accommodation and physical healthcare services.

    They will be required to adopt a trauma-informed approach, known to help improve the psychological and emotional wellbeing of people with complex needs. We also expect the new services to help people who have drug and alcohol problems and are currently excluded from some mainstream mental health services as a result.

    This specialist support breaks down all of the barriers people sleeping rough often face when trying to get help to improve their mental health. Really effective specialist teams can also influence mainstream health services in their local area, encouraging them to become more knowledgeable and understanding of the needs of people who are sleeping rough.

    So far, so good. But what about people sleeping rough in other areas not in receipt of this new funding?

    A welcome step forward

    Research shows 4 in 10 people sleeping rough in England have an identified mental health problem. The latest data from the CHAIN reports on rough sleeping in London shows 50% of people sleeping rough in the capital in 2018-19 had a mental health support need.

    It is welcome, therefore, that the new plan for mental health requires all areas of the country to complete a mental health needs assessment for people sleeping rough and take action to increase access to mental health services for this group.

    This new approach to mental health for people sleeping rough is a real step forward.

    Specialist mental health services have been tried in the past. We know they can make a dramatic difference to individuals’ lives, and help to reduce rough sleeping by supporting people to move on from homelessness for good.

    Better still, it doesn’t stop with specialist services this time. Instead all NHS services will need to think about how people sleeping rough can access the healthcare they need in order to rebuild their lives.

    St Mungo’s will be watching closely and encouraging all areas to ensure the plan delivers.

    Why it’s time for the NHS to step up and play its part in ending rough sleeping

    Rory Weal, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, explains why St Mungo’s, together with more than 20 homelessness and health organisations, have joined forces to urge NHS England to spend more on specialist health interventions for people experiencing homelessness.

    Rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010. Spiralling housing costs, increasing insecurity for private renters and cuts to services that prevent homelessness have all played their part. But rough sleeping is not just a housing problem, it’s a health problem too.

    One person dies every day while sleeping rough

    We face a situation where on average one person dies every day while sleeping rough or in emergency accommodation and many more have to cope every day with serious health conditions. Of the people seen sleeping rough in London in 2017-18, 50% had mental health problems, 43% were alcohol users and 40% were drug users. An estimated 46% had physical health conditions.

    Complex needs like these are mutually reinforcing. Without targeted interventions and support, many people end up stuck in a cycle of homelessness, poor heath, and – sadly too often – premature death.

    People can get stuck in a vicious cycle

    The issue of homeless health has gained increased attention in recent months. Over the summer the Government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy contained expectations for the NHS to be spending £30 million on health services for people who sleep rough. The Chief Executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens, also made similar promises that the needs of people sleeping rough would be addressed in the upcoming Long Term Plan for the NHS.

    This attention is welcome and long overdue. Health problems, particularly mental health problems, are often the reason why people are stuck sleeping rough. Poor mental health is an obstacle to engaging with services that can help move people off the street, while at the same time being homeless prevents people getting the mental health support they desperately need. This increases their exposure to the dangers of life on the street, and as a consequence, also increases their risk of early death.

    Urgent and emergency care costs are high

    The human costs of neglecting to address these issues are severe, but so are the financial costs. Estimates suggest the costs of treating homelessness for hospital inpatient and A&E admissions alone run to £2,100 per person per year, compared to £525 among the general population. In 2010 the total cost of urgent or emergency care for people sleeping rough was estimated to be £85 million per year, but this represents only a small fraction of the total costs to health services. The current figure is likely to be significantly higher.

    Without a conscious, proactive effort by the NHS and wider social services these barriers, and the resulting poor and costly health outcomes, will continue to persist, in turn costing core and acute services more in the process.

    The Long Term Plan is an opportunity for change

    The Long Term Plan is being developed by the NHS to cover the next decade of service delivery, and will be published later this year. It presents a vital opportunity to reduce the appalling health inequalities which exist for some of the most vulnerable and unwell people in our society.

    The £30 million promised by the Government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy is an insignificant amount in the context of the wider costs associated with homelessness. That’s why St Mungo’s, together with 20 other organisations across the homelessness and health sectors, want to see at least this amount pledged every year to develop specialist services for people who sleep rough, delivered in partnership with local authorities.

    Specialist interventions – such as dedicated mental health teams working with people on the street, or tailored services to increase access to general practice – can prevent admissions to acute service like A&E further down the line. When delivered in partnership with local agencies and homelessness services, these initiatives can be an essential in helping people off the streets too.

    We hope the contents of the Long Term Plan will build on the real momentum we have seen on the issue of homeless health in recent months.

    St Mungo’s, together with more than 20 homelessness and health organisations – including Homeless Link and The Queen’s Nursing Institute – wrote earlier this week to the Chief Executive of NHS England, calling for more action to address the appalling health outcomes faced by people sleeping rough. You can read our joint policy briefing, developed with Homeless Link, here.

    We campaign for an end to homelessness, making sure the voices of our clients are heard by decision-makers at every level. To join us and speak out for people experiencing homelessness, become a campaigner today.

    Why the budget 2018 is a missed opportunity for ending rough sleeping

    Following the announcement of the autumn 2018 budget, Rory Weal, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, analyses what the Government’s plans mean for those sleeping rough or at risk of homelessness.

    Amongst talk of an ‘end of austerity’ budget, the Chancellor yesterday delivered one that was really a missed opportunity from the perspective of homelessness.

    It had been a positive summer, with the Government listening to the homelessness sector and deciding to keep funding for supported housing in the welfare system, as well as publishing a rough sleeping strategy which contained a variety of interventions to stop the scandalous rise in the number of people sleeping rough across the country.

    However, the Budget failed to build on these developments, and did not contain measures which will deliver on the Government’s commitment to halve rough sleeping by 2022, and end it all together by 2027.

    There were bits of positive news to be found which – if delivered with homelessness in mind – could contribute to helping people off the streets.

    A new mental health crisis service

    On mental health, there was the news that a new mental health crisis service will be developed, as part of the NHS Long Term Plan. Given the scale of the mental health crisis on the streets and the difficulty many have accessing support, this is particularly welcome.

    The service will include comprehensive mental health support in every major A&E, more mental health specialist ambulances, and more crisis cafes. We want to see this service work with people sleeping rough who have mental health problems, providing support on the street if necessary.

    More money for the NHS

    However, we know that prevention is always better than cure. We want to see fewer people getting to crisis point and helped much earlier before conditions worsen.

    People sleeping rough have much higher rates not only of mental illness, but of physical health problems too, and shockingly high levels of mortality. So the cash injection for the NHS – £20bn over the next five years – is desperately needed and clearly welcome. But we know that without a clear plan, these kinds of funding injections often don’t make their way through to helping the most vulnerable. That is why we want the upcoming NHS Long Term Plan to earmark some of these funds for specialist services for people sleeping rough, to ensure their needs are not forgotten.

    Funding to address problems in Universal Credit roll-out

    Universal Credit roll-out has had a particularly damaging impact on people sleeping rough, which is why the £1bn announced in the budget to address problems with roll-out is welcome. These problems include large deductions being taken from Universal Credit awards to repay Advance Payments and other debts such as rent arrears. We are also seeing increases in arrears for service charge in supported housing, as Universal Credit no longer allows claimants living in supported housing to request direct payments to their landlord for the likes of gas and electricity.

    The complexity of the new system means that many struggle to navigate it and make a claim without support. The cumulative effect of this is to make it even harder for people to move on from homelessness.

    We want this new funding used to address these serious problems. However, in order to stop vulnerable claimants being pushed further into destitution, we still want to see a pause in the roll-out to give time for the process to be fixed.

    But not enough to end rough sleeping…

    Despite these positive notes, the overall feeling is that this was a missed opportunity. With no funding measures on rough sleeping specifically, and no plans to tackle the key drivers of homelessness, there is still much more to do to get close to the Government ambition to ending rough sleeping by 2027.

    We need to see further commitments to increase social housing, strengthen private renting and funding for homelessness services for people to find, and keep, a home for good. We will be working to build support for these changes in the months ahead. With the numbers sleeping rough continuing to rise, we cannot afford to delay.

    Our Home for Good campaign is calling on the government to put an end to rough sleeping by ensuring that everyone gets the long-term housing and support they need to rebuild their lives. Sign Kevin’s open letter to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

    A turning point in the history of rough sleeping?

    As the Government publishes its new Rough Sleeping Strategy, Beatrice Orchard, St Mungo’s Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research, welcomes a good first step, but calls for more work to ensure no one has to sleep rough ever again

    At the last count 4,751 people were sleeping rough on any one night in England. Each one vulnerable to poor health, violence and premature death. No one should have to suffer the damaging long-term consequences of not having a roof over their head or the support they need.

    Rough sleeping is a problem caused by many individual, structural and societal factors. There are no quick solutions, but that doesn’t mean rough sleeping can’t be solved.

    Stopping the scandal

    Shocked, like others at the sharp rise in rough sleeping since 2010, St Mungo’s launched its Stop the Scandal campaign to demand a new cross-government strategy to end rough sleeping.

    The snap General Election in 2017 provided an opportunity to work with other homelessness charities to make rough sleeping a priority for politicians, and both the Conservative and Labour parties committed to end rough sleeping in their election manifestos.

    The Government’s target is to end rough sleeping by 2027 and this week it has published a rough sleeping strategy as a first step towards realising this vision of a country where no one has to sleep rough.

    A good first step

    The strategy is backed by £100 million to fund measures to prevent rough sleeping, help people off the street quickly and support them to settle into a home. It’s a really good first step.

    The Somewhere Safe to Stay pilots will provide more emergency accommodation where people in crisis can have their needs assessed quickly, in safety away from the street. It is vital these services are targeted at those at immediate risk of sleeping rough, as well as those already on the street. Getting this approach right should pave the way for desperately needed reforms, preventing people sleeping rough in the first place.

    The initial investment in health services for people who sleep rough, in support for non-UK nationals and in floating support services to help people hang on to their home is also welcome.

    The challenges ahead

    The big challenge for the Government, and where the strategy falls short, is providing enough stable, safe and affordable housing. According to the evaluation of the Rough Sleepers Initiative in the 1990s, 5,500 people were housed in 3,500 units of permanent accommodation in London alone over a nine year period. Delivering more homes for people with a history of rough sleeping should be an urgent priority for the Government and housing providers.

    The strategy pledges to learn from new evidence in order to scale up and roll out programmes. We will be holding the Government to this pledge. We must move on from pilots and short-term cash injections and towards a long-term plan and investment.

    When it comes to learning lessons, there is a particularly welcome commitment to ensure there are more reviews into the deaths of people who die while rough sleeping to help services improve. It is desperately sad that this commitment is even needed, but the rising number of rough sleeper deaths is another reminder of why this strategy has to mark the turning point in the history of rough sleeping in our country.

    We share the Government’s vision of a future where no one has to sleep rough. But this is only the first step. While the new rough sleeping strategy is important, to meet their target of ending rough sleeping by 2027, the government must set out a plan to stop people becoming homeless in the first place.

    That’s why we’re launching a new campaign in the autumn calling on the government to end rough sleeping for good. Be the first to hear all about it – sign up to campaign with us today.

    A safe, secure future for homeless hostels

    The government’s decision to not go ahead with proposed changes to funding for supported housing is a victory for our #SaveHostels campaign. Robyn Casey, St Mungo’s Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, explains why this is so important and why we now need to secure funding for support costs

    This week the government announced that it will not go ahead with proposed changes to funding for supported housing, including homeless hostels.

    We have campaigned hard to protect funding for these life-saving services over the last two years. Our #Save Hostels campaign focused on this issue, and more than 12,000 people signed our petition calling on the government not to put homeless hostels at risk.

    We’re thrilled that the government has listened to us and our campaigners, and committed to continue using Housing Benefit to fund hostel housing costs.

    Why is it so important to fund housing costs in this way?

    Homeless hostels are a type of supported housing which help people to get back on their feet after a period of crisis as they look towards living independently. They enable people to live in a safe environment, while receiving support to rebuild their lives away from the street.

    Hostels are funded in two ways:

    • residents claim Housing Benefit to pay for the cost of their accommodation
    • the local council provides funding for the support staff who work closely with residents to help them to achieve their goals

    The government had proposed to change the way these services were funded by taking housing costs out of Housing Benefit. Instead, local councils would have been responsible for funding both housing and support costs.

    At St Mungo’s we were very concerned about these proposals. We felt they would have put homeless hostels at serious risk of closure, and left many people without anywhere to turn for support.

    The government stated that using local councils to distribute funding wouldn’t lead to a reduction in the amount of money available to services. This was a welcome reassurance, but our experience with this type of funding told a very different story.

    Funding for the support provided in our services has massively reduced over the past decade, after a ring-fence around this funding was removed. In fact, a report by the National Audit Office found that it has declined by 59 per cent since 2010. (PDF) This has left some services struggling to survive, and funding housing costs in the same way could have been devastating.

    Instead, the government has listened to calls from across the sector and retained funding within Housing Benefit.

    This means homeless hostels will have a stable income and a more secure future. We will continue to be able to invest in improving existing services and developing new ones and, crucially, provide safe places for people to stay and rebuild their lives after sleeping rough.

    What next?

    Increased oversight

    Housing costs within supported housing can be higher than in other rented properties. This is because there is a higher turnover of residents, and additional costs for the maintenance of communal spaces. The government recognises that these additional costs are justified, but would like to increase oversight of the sector to make sure that taxpayer money is being used effectively.

    St Mungo’s would welcome the opportunity to contribute to these plans. We are proud of the services we provide and the support we give our clients, and look forward to working with the government to ensure that the high standards we hold ourselves to is reflected across all services.

    A long term, strategic approach to funding for support

    While the government’s decision on housing costs is very welcome, there is still work to be done to restore funding for support costs. We are pleased that the government has also announced that it will review housing related support to better understand how the system currently works. We look forward to working with them on this issue and demonstrating the need for a secure support system which is fit for the future.

    But there is much more to be done to make sure that everyone has a safe and secure place to live. That’s why we’re launching a new campaign in the autumn calling on the government to end rough sleeping for good. Be the first to hear all about it – sign up to campaign with us today.

    We must not let fatalism set in

    Image: rough sleeper

    Rory Weal, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer at St Mungo’s, explains why we’re calling on Government to enact urgent measures to stop the scandal of people dying on the streets

    One week ago marked the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster. It was a time to reflect not only on the lives that were lost on that day, but also on how we all respond when faced with a human disaster on that scale.

    This week St Mungo’s has been highlighting another human disaster: the rising number of people dying on the streets. It is less visible, more dispersed and slower moving. But it is a disaster nonetheless, when so many people are dying in circumstances that are preventable and shockingly premature.

    Data suggests that, in London, someone dies on the streets every fortnight. In the rest of the UK, as many as two people are now dying every week, a rate twice as high as five years ago. The average age of someone who dies sleeping rough is 47 for a man and just 43 for a woman.

    What is worse is that these figures are likely to be an underestimate, given that recording deaths is infrequent and not done systematically.

    Our new report Dying on the Streets: the case for moving quickly to end rough sleeping looks into these figures in more detail. We found that mental health support needs among people who have died has increased dramatically, from 29% in 2010 to 80% last year.

    To find out more about what is going on the ground, we also carried out a national survey of street outreach services earlier this year. The picture that emerged is one in which the number of rough sleepers is growing, at the same time as access to vital service is getting harder. This is creating a perfect storm to which the most vulnerable homeless people are falling victims.

    Some of the findings were shocking. 70% of respondents said access to mental health services for people sleeping rough had got harder compared to five years ago, and 64% said this was true for emergency accommodation. The majority of respondents had experienced a death in their area, but only one-quarter of those had any experience of a review being carried out.

    In short: there is less help available, people are dying, and these deaths are going ignored.

    But statistics don’t capture the most tragic consequence: the sense of acceptance and inevitability which increasingly meets the death of someone sleeping rough. As such tragedies become more commonplace, we come to expect, and sadly, accept them.

    We must not let fatalism set in. Dying on the streets should be unthinkable. It is certainly preventable. There are ways to stop this scandal from continuing, but only if the determination and political will is there.

    To achieve that end, earlier this week we held a roundtable discussion in Parliament. This was attended by the Minister for Mental Health, MPs, and experts in the field, who all recognised the gravity of the issue and resolved to stop the scandal of deaths on the streets. With the Government’s rough sleeping strategy due for publication next month, now is the time to turn those warm words into firm action.

    We are calling for a package of measures to ensure rapid relief from rough sleeping, to get people off the streets and prevent future deaths. This includes access to specialist mental health services, an expansion of emergency accommodation, and full reviews to learn the lessons from every single death that occurs on our streets.

    Without such interventions, I fear current trends will worsen, lives will be cut short, and our claims to being a compassionate society will be left in tatters. We hope the Government uses its upcoming rough sleeping strategy to avoid this fate. The price of failure is too high.

    Protecting the foundations of hostel funding

    Emma Webb, Campaigns Officer, explains why we’ve been campaigning to save hostels…

    Today (on World Homeless Day) we handed in our Save Hostels, Rebuild Lives petition – calling on the government not to put homeless hostels at risk as they change the way supported housing is funded.

    More than 12,000 people signed the petition, and this morning St Mungo’s clients and staff built a model house in Parliament Square displaying the names of some of those signatories. The house was decorated with bricks bearing messages from our clients about what supported housing means to them – things like “hope”, “guidance” and “compassion”.

    When I joined the St Mungo’s campaigns team in August, Save Hostels was already in full swing with 4,500 signatures on the petition. I was new to the homelessness sector and, while it came as no surprise that rough sleeping was on the rise after years of austerity (increasing by 134% since 2010), I was less aware of the pressures on hostels.

    Hostel provision has seen an 18% reduction in bed spaces since 2010, alongside dwindling funding for support contracts from local authorities and mandatory 1% annual rent decreases – all in the face of rising demand for services. The latest proposed changes to supported housing funding (which you can read about in a previous blog) are potentially even more devastating.

    Since then I’ve been visiting St Mungo’s projects and services to get a sense of exactly what’s at stake with these changes. My first visit was to Endsleigh Gardens, a hostel where the basement houses a Bricks and Mortar scheme, teaching residents and other St Mungo’s clients bricklaying and plastering. As well as being an accredited course leading to a diploma and the possibility of paid employment, the scheme boosts people’s confidence and self-esteem.

    I also visited the North London Women’s Hostel, where women who are vulnerable and have support needs are housed with 24 hour support and an on-site counsellor. The hostel provides a safe environment for women who’ve experienced domestic violence or other abuse, while also offering support around physical or mental health problems and drug or alcohol issues.

    Most recently I went to Hope Gardens, a specialist hostel for those who have experienced longer periods of rough sleeping as well as drug or alcohol problems. The hostel recently moved to a new building and in the process was redesigned around residents’ wishes – from decorating the building to overhauling the induction process and incorporating a family room for visits. At the request of residents all posters were removed and what remaining information had to be displayed was framed, transforming the appearance from that of a service to that of a home.

    What these services showed me is that hostels are more than just a place to stay. They provide a home, safety, and the support residents need to rebuild their lives, and that’s why it’s so important that we protect them.

    Homeless hostels provide 30,000 beds a night in England, and currently represent the country’s primary route out of rough sleeping. For those with multiple and complex needs in particular, they are a crucial stepping stone in a person’s journey from the street to independent accommodation.

    That’s why we were at Parliament Square this morning, and why St Mungo’s will continue to make the case for secure and sustainable funding for hostels as government policy develops.

    For now, we’d like to say a huge thank you to the 12,005 supporters who signed the petition, and the 900 campaigners who recently asked their MP to attend today’s debate on the future of supported housing funding. Demonstrating public support for this issue is so important, and that’s what you’ve enabled us to do.

    To be kept up to date on this campaign and to get involved in creating change for people affected by homelessness, sign up to be a St Mungo’s campaigner today.

    Saving hostels, rebuilding lives

    Rob, St Mungo's client

    Dominic Williamson, Executive Director of Strategy and Policy, explains why we’re launching our Save Hostels Rebuild Lives campaign…

    In August 2016, our CEO Howard Sinclair wrote in The Guardian about how government proposals on future funding were creating great uncertainty for organisations like St Mungo’s that provide supported housing for homeless people.

    Nearly a year on, that uncertainty remains and the future funding for these vital services is still up in the air.

    So this week St Mungo’s is launching a new campaign – Save Hostels Rebuild Lives – to draw attention to the issue. Our call to government is: “Stop and take the time to get this right”.

    At one level the issue is simple: every year supported housing, like hostels, helps thousands of homeless people escape the streets and rebuild their lives. Other supported housing prevents homelessness, for example, for young people at risk. These services will be essential to achieving the government’s own goal of reducing rough sleeping – and so they must be protected from further funding cuts.
    However, because the way the costs of these services is funded is quite complex, getting wider interest in and support for the issue is not easy.

    I’ll try to explain. Bear with me – this may get a bit technical!

    Supported housing for homeless people includes short term hostels, assessment centres as well as longer term housing with support. They are a subset of a much larger supported housing sector which includes domestic violence refuges, sheltered housing and extra care housing for elderly people. Some services have 24 hour staffing, others have 9-to-5 support depending on the client group.

    The cost of the staff providing the support are met through contracts commissioned by local authorities, through what used to be known as the Supporting People scheme. The housing costs are covered by the rent, which for most people is met through their individual entitlement to housing benefit. This includes housing management staff costs and the cost of the physical building itself including facilities such as lifts or fire alarms systems, day-to-day repairs and the long-term maintenance of the fabric of the building.

    Over the past six or seven years, as local council budgets have been squeezed, so has the money available for the support contracts. As a result, some homelessness services have shut or had the level of support reduced.

    ‘Not possible to deliver supported housing within LHA cap’

    Last year the government announced changes that would potentially be even more devastating. Driven by the roll out of Universal Credit and pressure to reduce welfare spending, DWP ministers set out plans to cap people’s housing benefit entitlement at the local housing allowance rate (LHA). This is rate varies considerably across the country and is tagged to the lower end of the local private rented sector market.

    In many parts of the country it is simply not possible to deliver supported housing within the LHA cap. Particularly in the current funding climate, where local authorities are already strapped for cash, the government’s proposal to make up any shortfall through a discretionary local top-up fund will undoubtedly lead to a further cuts in funding – and ultimately put crucial services at risk of closure.

    Over the past 12 months, St Mungo’s and other organisations such as the National Housing Federation have been working to model the potential impact of these changes on services. We have responded to a government consultation and submitted evidence to a joint enquiry by the DWP and CLG select committees. Their report agreed that that the government must take more time to develop a sustainable and secure future funding system that protects these housing and support services.

    Before the General Election ministers had been listening to the arguments and promised to protect services. Meetings have started with new ministers to make sure they also understand the risks. We are pleased to be part of those discussion and at a meeting recently our CEO Howard invited Caroline Dinenage MP, the DWP minister now in charge of the reforms, to come and visit one of our hostels to learn more.

    ‘Helping people off the streets for nearly five decades’

    St Mungo’s has been helping homeless people off the streets for nearly five decades. Over that time have seen that unless the funding regime is strong and secure, services for homeless people are often among the first to be cut when budgets are tight. Cuts to supported housing have undoubtedly contributed to the rapid rise in rough sleeping since 2010.

    This really is a matter of life and death. Sleeping rough is dangerous – the average age of death of someone sleeping rough is 47.

    Each night at St Mungo’s we provide housing and support to 2,700 people. We work to build on people’s strengths so they can recover from the issues that have led to their homelessness. A decent and safe place live and good quality support are crucial.

    There are many fantastic supported housing services across the country which seek to empower people and have been very successful in getting people back on their feet. But there is also some poor quality provision, and hostels may not the best route for everyone.

    ‘Helping people with complex needs to secure a tenancy’

    Over the past few years there has been growing interest in an approach called ‘Housing First’. Originating in New York as an alternative to the patchy emergency shelter provision that is the norm in the USA, the Housing First approach is based on helping people with complex needs to secure a tenancy first along with a long term and flexible package of support around them. There is a growing evidence base from Europe and the UK that this approach can be effective and the government has responded positively to calls to scale this up as part of the solution to growing rough sleeping.

    St Mungo’s is one of the main providers of Housing First projects in England. We are seeing how this model can work well for some people and we support the government’s intention to further pilot Housing First on a larger scale as part of the pathway to help people off the streets. However, supported housing will remain as the backbone of homelessness provision and over the past decades has helped thousands to move to a life off the streets.

    ‘Dedicated to continously improving our services’

    At St Mungo’s we are dedicated to consciously improving our services and excited about the prospect of having a wider evidence-based debate about what service models work best for different people.
    But while we gather and analyse our evidence, we need to protect existing, tried and tested services that are currently supporting thousands of vulnerable men and women up and down the country away from rough sleeping.

    We are facing a number of significant challenges. The roll out of Universal Credit and the related phasing out of housing benefit means that the funding system for supported housing will need to change. Restrictions on benefits for 18-21 year olds means that our accommodation for young people could become silted up.

    Finding a sustainable funding solution will require time and careful consideration of the full range of options. The government should – and can – take that time because housing benefit is not due to be fully phased out until 2022.

    That is why we need your help now. I hope you will join us by signing and sharing our petition using the hashtag #Savehostels.

    Save Hostels. Rebuild Lives.

    Rob, St Mungo's client

    This week, St Mungo’s launched our Save Hostels Rebuild Lives campaign, calling on the government to properly consider the damaging effect changes to funding for supported housing could have on homeless people. Take five minutes to find out why, and what you can do to help.

    Many people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness need specialist support.

    This expert support is provided by dedicated staff in supported housing – hostels – but these services are at risk.

    The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Damian Green, are planning to present proposals to change funding for supported housing to government in a matter of months.

    St Mungo’s believes these changes will cause irreparable damage to essential services and may even cause some to close.

    A route out of rough sleeping

    Full disclosure? We provide supported housing services that could be affected by current proposals, which will compound problems faced by projects already being challenged by a reduction in rent allowance that came into effect in April 2017.

    In 2016, St Mungo’s housed 4,120 people, over half of whom have slept rough. Many of our clients have multiple and complex needs, and for them, recovery is more than a roof.

    Most funding for supported housing services for single homeless people comes from a combination of housing benefit and local authority budget for support they commission.

    Supported housing under threat

    The proposals involve reducing people’s benefit entitlement, but they don’t take into account the way support is funded. They will leave supported housing services even more reliant on entirely discretionary funding from already stretched local council budgets.

    With no legal requirement to provide vulnerable homeless people with supported housing, many services have lost their funding. Analysis by the National Audit Office shows that between 2010/11 and 2014/15 funding for housing-related support fell by 45% across single-tier and county councils. [1]

    There are many reasons to be concerned by this. One argument is that without the right support at the right time, people can get stuck in damaging cycles of homelessness, making recovery all the more difficult. Another is that causing the reduction of available places in supported housing makes no economic sense.

    The existing proposals suggest a cap on housing benefits based on local housing allowance rates, which is tied to rent levels in the private sector. This does not take into account the reality that the costs of providing supported housing are similar across the country.

    St Mungo’s believes that basing the system purely on Local Housing Allowance rates will provide little incentive to develop supported housing for homeless people in low rent areas. This would create a situation whereby availability of supported housing could be limited in places where it would be easier for residents to find affordable housing when they are ready to move on.

    A funding system that does not take into account local demand – or does not ensure that need is properly assessed – not only ruins lives, it is more expensive. Research published by the National Housing Federation found a shortfall of 16,692 places in supported housing for working-aged people in 2015/16. The research estimated that in the last financial year, the shortfall in supported housing places cost the taxpayer £361 million. [2]

    The right support for recovery

    “Making the service fit the need is really important.” – Rob

    Rob told me how he spent 20 years bouncing between sofas and services ill-equipped to help him recover and properly manage his mental health. Finally, he came to a service we run that worked for him. He’s since moved into independent living, is engaged to be married and is working as an advocate for homeless people.

    We know that sometimes people find certain environments challenging. Sometimes, people move between services because their support needs have changed or because services close.

    Recovery is a process, and moving into supported accommodation after living on the streets can be a difficult transition, but these services save lives.

    We are urging the Secretaries of State for Communities and Local Government and for Work and Pensions to:

    • Develop a sustainable and secure new funding system that helps vulnerable people get off the streets for good
    • Introduce a legal requirement for local authorities to assess need and plan for appropriate supported housing provision in their area
    • Ensure that the system is fully transparent and accountable to central government

    With the right support at the right time, people can recover and rebuild their lives after being homeless.

    Sign our petition to #SaveHostels here

    [1] National Audit Office (2014) The impact of funding reductions on local authorities

    [2] National Housing Federation (2017) Strengthening the case for supported housing

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