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.

    How can we halt the rise in ‘returners’?

    Rory Weal, St Mungo’s Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, looks at why more people are returning to rough sleeping and why the Government needs to act now to halt a worrying trend

    For those of us passionate about ending homelessness there was, for once, some welcome news last week. New figures from the latest annual CHAIN (Combined Homelessness and Information Network) report (PDF) showed that there has been an 8% decrease in the number of people sleeping rough in London.

    The 7,484 people who were seen rough sleeping in 2017/18 is the lowest total since 2013/14, although it is still over twice the number seen ten years ago.

    London seems to be bucking the national trend, suggesting services are working better together to prevent people sleeping rough in the first place, as well as helping them off the streets quickly if they end up there.

    Rising numbers returning to rough sleeping

    However, we should be under no illusion that the annual CHAIN statistics paint a rosy picture. Among the positives, the figures also give serious causes for concern – not least on the rising number of people returning to rough sleeping after a period off the streets.

    In 2017/18, 1,119 people seen rough sleeping during the year were returners, representing a rise of 8% on the previous year and 27% since 2014/15. While overall numbers have gone down, the total number of returners continues to rise. In addition to the number of people sleeping rough, the CHAIN database also records the outcomes for people seen sleeping rough in London. These figures suggest the root of the problem is an increasing reliance on short term accommodation, with people who have experienced rough sleeping finding longer term sustainable housing harder and harder to access.

    Of those who had been sleeping rough and were booked into accommodation last year, 78% moved into short-term accommodation (such as hostels). Just 22% found mid-long term housing (such as the private rented sector or long term supported housing), a fall from the previous year.

    At the same time, the proportion of people leaving short-term accommodation to take up a place in longer term housing has halved in three years, from 40% in 2014/15 to 21% in 2017/18. Many of those who fail to find a home are moving back onto the streets, with ‘negative’ reasons for departure from hostels and other short-term options also rising in recent years.

    Why do people return to rough sleeping?

    To shed more light on the reasons people return to rough sleeping after time off the streets, St Mungo’s has published a new report, On my own two feetThe research, carried out by peer researchers with experience of homelessness and rough sleeping, uncovered many reasons people end up being pushed and pulled back to life on the streets.

    The research revealed multiple barriers to accessing long-term housing for people with experience of rough sleeping, including the reluctance of landlords to let to people receiving benefits, a lack of truly affordable rents, money for a deposit or support for individuals to manage their tenancies.

    The keys to ending rough sleeping for good

    How can we make things better? At St Mungo’s we believe the Government should use its upcoming rough sleeping strategy to increase long term accommodation options for people with a history of sleeping rough and guarantee funding for accompanying support.

    One model which should be expanded is the Clearing House in London, which offers ring-fenced social housing for people with a history of rough sleeping and ongoing support to help them cope with living independently and move towards employment. Another good model is Housing First, which provides stable tenancies and intensive support for people who have complex needs.

    We know that getting people into suitable, long term housing with appropriate support is key to ending rough sleeping for good. We now need action to achieve this. We cannot allow the rise in returners to become the start of a worrying new trend.

     

    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.

    Towards a new rough sleeping strategy

    Beatrice Orchard, St Mungo’s Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research, writes about our priorities as the Homelessness Reduction Act and other measures seek to end homelessness

    The Homelessness Reduction Act comes into force today. This is a landmark piece of legislation with the potential to have a hugely positive impact on the lives of many more people who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, compared to the previous system. It places new duties on local authorities to help prevent and relieve homelessness for people regardless of ‘priority need’ criteria.

    This follows news last week of a new initiative to reduce rough sleeping and a decision to reinstate entitlement to housing benefit for all 18-21 year olds. These are very welcome steps towards ending the misery of sleeping rough, an aim that surely unites us all.

    In 2016, we at St Mungo’s launched our Stop the Scandal campaign calling for a new national strategy to end rough sleeping and this is what we want to see next.

    The government has committed to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and to eliminate it altogether by 2027. To meet this pledge, a ministerial taskforce has been established to produce a new rough sleeping strategy. A Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel made up of homeless sector representatives, including St Mungo’s, is providing guidance to this ministerial taskforce.

    Rough sleeping has increased by 169% since 2010. On any given night, 4,751 people sleep rough in England.

    Behind these stark figures are people who are living each day at risk of violence, abuse and serious ill health. We have evidence of this from the people themselves, from our outreach teams and our research with people who have experienced rough sleeping. Put simply, it is a scandal.

    That’s why it is good to see a sense of urgency from the government.

    We agree immediate action is needed to move people off the streets and out of danger. Effective outreach services are part of this. So is emergency accommodation and access to mental health and substance use treatment and support. This must also be aligned with measures to prevent people sleeping rough in the first place and long term support to ensure people don’t return to the street.

    The new strategy must protect and expand existing services, which support people off the streets. That includes supported housing, which is the primary route out of rough sleeping for people who need both a safe place to stay and support to recover from homelessness and associated problems, including poor health and experience of violence and abuse.

    However, the government’s current proposals to change the way homeless hostels and other short term supported housing is funded puts the future of these life-saving services at risk.

    As rough sleeping continues to rise nationally, available places in supported housing have fallen due to major cuts in local authority funding. Research by Homeless Link found there was an 18% reduction in bed spaces in homelessness accommodation between 2010 and 2016.

    Despite this, the government now wants local authorities to become responsible for funding the housing costs in hostels, in addition to the support services which councils are already struggling to fund.

    Instead, we think the government should adjust its plans in line with calls from the supported housing sector and continue to provide funding for housing costs via the welfare system.

    Beyond this, ministers will need to consider the role for innovative approaches, such as Housing First, which has proven successful for ending rough sleeping among those with the most complex problems. Government investment in three Housing First pilots is, again, welcome, but ministers will need to establish long term funding arrangements to make this approach work.

    An integrated rough sleeping strategy will also need to be underpinned by a legal framework to help ensure services benefit from sustainable funding and can respond to fluctuations in demand. The Homelessness Reduction Act is a good start, using new legal duties to shift the focus of councils in England towards providing help to prevent homelessness in the first place.

    But if the Act is to be a success, councils must be able to help those in danger of sleeping rough find the right housing and support. Sadly, the reality is the unacceptable shortage of affordable housing options for too many people, and this is another long term challenge for the ministerial taskforce.

    St Mungo’s has always supported people to move off the streets into accommodation and to access the services that can help them rebuild their lives. This can take days, weeks, sometimes years.

    We don’t think it is an easy challenge the government has accepted, but we share their ambition of ending rough sleeping and welcome the opportunity to help get on with it.

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