In this blog, we introduce you to Dexter, one of St Mungo’s participating TheraPaws dogs.
What’s a TheraPaws dog you ask?
Well, being a TheraPaws dog involves taking regular visits to vulnerable members of the community (those living in mental health centres, hospitals, hospices, care homes etc.) who love seeing and engaging with canine friends.
Therapy dogs are an invaluable asset to homelessness charities such as St Mungo’s as they give the opportunity to reach out and offer a calming and non-judgemental presence to some of society’s most hard-hit individuals. That’s why we are one of the few charities that accommodate people who are homeless with their dogs or other pets wherever possible.
Dexter is a playful and friendly four-year-old Labradoodle based in West London. As a therapy dog he likes to spend his time supervising staff and trying to encourage complete (but often willing) strangers to play with him and his ball or frisbee!
Dexter became a TheraPaws dog when one of his staff spotted that a charity was looking for volunteers for their TheraPaws programme and applied accordingly. After passing some background checks and an assessment to determine his suitability, Dexter took part in an induction programme to embark on his new calling as a therapy dog. From there, he was matched on various projects that suit both dog and volunteer teams with appropriate clients.
Dexter got involved with St Mungo’s when Niamh Carwood, the TheraPaws co-ordinator at Mayhew, got in touch with us here at St Mungo’s to match Dexter as a therapy dog with one of our clients. The client in question has had some social isolation issues and we thought that Dexter’s irresistibly sunny, sociable nature could help bring this client outside on a more regular basis.
Thankfully, our notion that the client and Dexter would get along was well judged – the client has never missed one of their weekly appointments! St Mungo’s staff, the client as well as Dexter very much look forward to these visits, where all parties got to enjoy some time outside, with Dexter showing how a frisbee should best be chased. The visits also give St Mungo’s staff another (neutral) talking point on which to focus with the client, as well as giving Dexter another pal to pull into his games.
Want to get involved in the fight against homelessness with your dog? Why not sign up for our #MungosTakeTheLead challenge this August. Register yourself and your dog, find some sponsors and pledge to walk 26.2 miles throughout the 31 days of August.
Together with all of our participants, we’re hoping to raise £12,000 and walk a collective total of 4,266 miles – one mile for every person found rough sleeping on a single night in England last year.
St Mungo’s Recovery Approach: a review of the evidence
We see people make remarkable changes in their lives, and often they say this was possible through the support they received. The St Mungo’s Recovery Approach summarises how St Mungo’s services support the journey to recovery and how we help people to re-build their lives.
The Recovery Approach sets out what St Mungo’s sees as the best ways to work with clients to support their recovery through four ‘building blocks’:
Building initial relationships and trust
Securing resources and opportunities
Developing client skills
Providing support that enables and empowers.
When we do all of these well, someone we help is more likely to develop the confidence, skills and resilience to re-build their lives.
As well as the lived experience of clients and the expertise of our staff, the Recovery Approach drew on good practice from across the homelessness sector and other fields including mental health and substance misuse. We incorporated evidence-based approaches that underpin, for example, Psychologically Informed Environments, person-centred approaches and trauma-informed services.
But with our commitment to being an evidence-based organisation, we wanted to go further. So earlier this year our Research team commissioned Revolving Doors Agency to undertake a critical and independent Rapid Evidence Review of the St Mungo’s Recovery Approach.
The review considered a wide range of research and confirmed that there is a positive evidence base to support the components of our approach and showed that we are drawing on well researched good practice. It also makes recommendations for further research where more evidence would help.
Protecting people experiencing homelessness from the coronavirus
Our Executive Director of Strategy and Policy, Dominic Williamson, outlines what the Government must do to protect both our staff and people experiencing homelessness during the coronavirus pandemic.
These certainly are unprecedented times.
With supermarket shelves bare and new restrictions being announced daily, we are in the middle of something the likes of which few of us have ever had to experience.
As an organisation, the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic has well and truly been understood. Our top priority is to do everything we can to protect the safety and wellbeing of our clients and our staff.
Staff at our outreach, advice and accommodation services are currently working around the clock to respond to the latest public health guidance, and prepare for further restrictions on daily life to help reduce the spread of the virus.
Our staff are experts in providing specialist support to people to move off the street and to sustain their tenancy. It is crucial that they can continue to work throughout this crisis.
People who are homeless commonly suffer from long-term health problems, which are exacerbated for those who sleep rough. Many of our clients need help to cope with complex problems such as poor mental health, drug and alcohol problems and domestic abuse – so it is essential that our services keep running.
If services are not able to maintain minimum staffing levels throughout the coronavirus crisis, then thousands more people could be forced to sleep rough, placing unbearable pressure on the NHS.
This is why we have been calling on the Government to include everyone working in the homelessness sector as key workers, recognising their role as critical and prioritising their children for access to school and nursery.
The Government has listened and included ‘charities and workers delivering key frontline services’ in the list of key workers. This is very welcome news indeed.
We recognise things are moving quickly, but we still need further action to protect people facing homelessness as the pandemic develops. We are working alongside other homelessness charities to call on the Government to introduce further urgent measures, including:
Funding for councils to pay for housing or hotel-style accommodation where people sleeping rough or living in shelters and hostels can self-isolate if they need to. This requires a commitment to go beyond the £3.2m already earmarked to help councils find accommodation for people sleeping rough.
Ensuring that people sleeping rough and living shelters and hostels have access to testing for the virus and healthcare assistance.
Proving Personal Protection Equipment and testing for people working in homelessness services.
Removing legal barriers in the homelessness legislation so that anyone who is at risk of, or is already homeless, is provided with accommodation. This should also include a suspension of rules that prevent people with no recourse to public funds from getting help with housing and homelessness.
Support through the welfare system to protect those who face homelessness. This means making sure people do not have to wait five weeks for, or have to take out a loan before their first Universal Credit payment, as well as suspending automatic debt deductions and benefit sanctions, and ensuring that people are not subject to impossible work search activity. Government should also increase support for housing costs through the welfare system in order to prevent people becoming homeless.
There is little doubt we need to avoid adding to the huge strain on NHS and emergency services, as well as save the lives of vulnerable groups. The homelessness sector can do a great deal to support this effort if the measures above are taken.
Above all, the impact of the coronavirus on people already struggling with homelessness must be understood and the response must be compassionate.
The action from Government to ban new evictions during the crisis is a welcome example. We hope this approach will continue.
Keep up to date and help us continue to put pressure on the Government during these unprecedented times by signing up as a campaigner.
If you see someone sleeping rough, please let StreetLink know so they can help connect them to local services. Or in a medical emergency call 999.
Today is International Women’s Day, and Cat Glew, our Women’s Strategy Manager, celebrates the first anniversary of our Women’s Strategy, and shares details of our exciting projects for the year ahead.
Today, on Sunday 8 March 2020, the world is celebrating International Women’s Day – and St Mungo’s is celebrating the first birthday of our Women’s Strategy!
A lot has changed in 12 months at St Mungo’s and beyond. Across the world and in our services, women are facing challenges to their rights and their safety that we can’t ignore.
The UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) has published a new Gender Social Norms Index warning that progress towards gender equality is slowing worldwide. Nearly nine in 10 people across the world hold some bias against women.
The data showed that half of men and women think that men make better political leaders, and four in 10 think men make better business executives. Twenty-eight per cent of people think it is justified for a man to beat his wife.
Progress is possible, even if it does feel far too slow. Last week saw the return of the Domestic Abuse Bill to Parliament, more than two years since it was first introduced. Along with the commitments to tackle rough sleeping made by the Government, the new bill offers a once in a generation opportunity to make sure the voices of women who are homeless and sleeping rough are heard by those in power.
What’s changed since the launch of our Women’s Strategy
The Safety by Experience project will develop bespoke tools for homelessness services working to end violence against women. We’ll be working with clients to ask what safety advice they would give other women in homelessness settings, and with staff to create tools that fit our services much better.
We’ve also made progress towards our Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance accreditation this year. We’ve got new domestic abuse training and e-learning available for staff, along with an updated domestic abuse policy, quick guide, posters and leaflets.
The Women’s Strategy work has focussed this year on our core challenge – creating an environment of physical and emotional safety for women, who are at disproportionate risk of harm from those they love and trust. But as the strategy enters its second year, it’s also time for a positive celebration of the strength and resilience of our female clients and women’s services.
The Government wants to end rough sleeping, is it going about it the right way?
Last week the Government released new figures on the number of people sleeping rough in England. Our Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research, Bea Orchard, takes a deeper look at the figures and explains why you should sign our new petition.
It’s not unusual for election promises to be greeted with scepticism, and perhaps many took this view of the Conservative Party manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping. It’s still very early days, but since the election in December there have been some positive signs the Government is determined to achieve its target of ending rough sleeping by 2024.
The Prime Minister has made two visits to homelessness services in London to talk about the commitment, the Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI) Fund has been extended and expanded beyond 2019/20, and last week a further £236m was announced for ‘housing first style’ accommodation to support up to 6,000 people away from sleeping on the street.
The annual rough sleeping statistics for England were also published last week, providing an opportunity to scrutinise progress so far, and the distance still to travel.
What do the latest rough sleeping statistics tell us?
The statistics show the number of people estimated to be sleeping rough on a single night in England in autumn 2019. They show a 9% decrease taking the total number from 4,677 in 2018 to 4,266 in 2019. This is the second year in a row the number has fallen, which is something of a relief, given the truly shocking rate at which rough sleeping had been rising since 2010.
However, the number of people sleeping rough on a single night in 2019 is still 141% higher than in 2010 when the current method for recording rough sleeping was introduced.
A more detailed look at the statistics suggests some of the measures taken by government as part of the Rough Sleeping Strategy are having a positive impact. 244 local authority areas have now received some funding from the RSI Fund since it was introduced in March 2018 and overall these areas reported a 12% decrease in rough sleeping in 2019, compared to the previous year. While rough sleeping in the 73 areas without any funding has continued to rise.
Not all areas in receipt of RSI funding reported a fall in the number sleeping rough locally. And only 50% of areas in receipt of funding for the first time in 2019 reported a decrease. This should be a reminder that services supporting people to find and keep a home take time to set up, and that new and expanded services are likely to find people who weren’t getting any help before.
However, it should also be a reminder to government that funding for outreach services and short-term accommodation can only do so much when wider factors such as cuts to council budgets, housing benefit and a shortage of social housing mean more people are pushed into homelessness in the first place and struggle to get the long-term support they need to recover.
How helpful are the statistics?
The statistics are widely criticised for not offering a more accurate account of the total number of people sleeping rough over the entire year, rather than on one night. What they do offer is a useful indicator of the relative size of the problem and particular trends which can be monitored over many years. This is essential for holding the Government to account and keeping ministers focused on ensuring a significant, sustained reduction in the number of people exposed to the dangers of sleeping rough.
Can government action end rough sleeping?
St Mungo’s Home for Good campaign is calling on government action to end rough sleeping because we know it can be done. By 2010, 20 years of government action meant the end of rough sleeping was in sight.
We also know that since 2008, nearly £1bn has been cut from vital homelessness services. Services that provide specialist one-to-one support to help people cope with complex problems like poor mental health, substance use and domestic abuse, and prevent people from sleeping rough in the first place by helping them before they become homeless.
If the Government is going to end rough sleeping in a sustainable way, then it needs to restore funding to the levels invested before the financial crash and ensure that this funding is maintained long-term. This is why we are calling on government to invest an extra £1bn every year in services that prevent homelessness and end rough sleeping and ring-fence the money so it can’t be spent on anything else.
726 people died while sleeping rough or in emergency accommodation in 2018. The consequences of not taking further action to prevent homelessness and end rough sleeping should be unthinkable.
We’re certainly not planning to let the Government lose sight of its commitment on this crucial issue. You can help too by supporting our Home for Good campaign and signing Jan’s petition calling on the Housing Secretary to ensure everyone has the support they need to find and keep a home for good.
Knocked Back: My journey of lived experience and peer research
Phil previously slept rough and struggled with drug and alcohol problems. Today he is based in Stoke-on-Trent and is working as a peer researcher. Phil conducted interviews for our new report Knocked Back. He reflects on the findings of this research.
At least 12,000 people sleeping rough, or at risk of doing so, went without vital drug and alcohol treatment in England last year.
Six in 10 people sleeping rough in London have a drug or alcohol problem, up from five in 10 people in 2014-15.
Rough sleeping and drug and alcohol problems are closely associated with traumatic experiences and isolation which often precede someone’s first night sleeping rough.
As a peer researcher with Expert Citizens C.I.C I helped to carry out some of the research in the report in my own community of Stoke-on-Trent. I was part of a team that facilitated two workshops with people who had experience of homelessness and addiction. I also personally interviewed people with lived experience and staff and commissioners about these issues.
I feel my lived experience made it possible for me to fully understand the questions we needed to ask and the best way to go about this. 12 years ago, I was rough sleeping and in the middle of addiction – I know how much this can affect someone’s ability to access services.
I was young but had already been through the system a few times, stayed in multiple hostels and spent the odd night beneath the stars. I had also attempted to live what in society’s eyes was a ‘normal’ life working and living with my partner. However, because of things that happened in my childhood and everything since, I found this hard to sustain.
When I ended up on the streets, the only option available in the area was a night shelter. There were only eight beds to accommodate a huge homeless contingent and it couldn’t be accessed under the influence of any substance. There was also a day centre open six days a week, which also had a strict policy on people not being under the influence
Both facilities seemed to lack the necessary flexibility for me. They also lacked any kind of understanding that being street homeless and having an addiction is less of a lifestyle choice and more of a culmination, in my case, of traumatic experiences that led me down a path where I felt I had little or no choice.
Physical and emotional barriers and high expectations lead to people going without the support they need. This is something which I feel this new research captures really well, and the recommendations outline what needs to change.
The most important recommendations for me, are to ensure that services work in a trauma/psychologically informed way and on a person-centred basis. Only then will we see possible changes in outcome. Services should look at the way success is measured and identify if this suits the service and the people using them, adjusting if necessary. Funding is of course necessary to achieve this.
If I had to change one thing, it would be to ensure we have more specialised services, that can work with people who have both mental health and drug and alcohol problems, this is sometimes called a dual diagnosis. I feel this would greatly reduce the numbers of deaths on the streets and the number of people being ‘knocked back’ from vital support.
It was an excellent opportunity contribute to this research and use my experiences to interview people currently in need. I hope that local and national politicians take its recommendations on board and deliver the change we need.
The homelessness election? Why the main parties have said more on homelessness than you might think
As the UK prepares for the General Election this week, our Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, Rory Weal, takes a look at the commitments that each of the four largest political parties in England have made to tackle homelessness in their manifestos.
You’re unlikely to have missed that there is a general election happening this Thursday. It’s dominated the airwaves over the past six weeks.
But you’d be forgiven for having missed what the parties have been saying about homelessness. With so much airtime going on other issues from Brexit to the NHS, it’s been easy to overlook that the major parties have been talking more and more about homelessness. This has stepped up in recent days with both Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson publically condemning rough sleeping, saying they’ll end it within five years if they win on Thursday.
But at St Mungo’s we want politicians to move beyond soundbites, we need real action to tackle rough sleeping. The number of people on the streets has risen 165% since 2010, and last year, on average, two people died every day while sleeping rough or in emergency accommodation. This is nothing short of a national disgrace that needs urgent action, not lip service.
That’s why we teamed up with five other homelessness charities – Centrepoint, Crisis, Depaul UK, Homeless Link and Shelter – to form the End Homelessness Now campaign. Together we are calling on parties to ensure everybody in our society has a safe and stable home, by putting in place a clear plan that commits to:
Improving access to truly affordable housing, by building at least 90,000 social homes a year over the next five years, and improving security for tenants in the private rented sector
Strengthening support through the welfare system, through housing benefit that covers the cost of rent and fixing Universal Credit so that it doesn’t push people into homelessness
Providing long-term, guaranteed funding for services which prevent homelessness and quickly get people off the street and into a stable home.
Last week at the national housing hustings we had an opportunity to put these messages to senior figures from each of the largest parties in England. Former St Mungo’s client and campaign champion Kevin Farrell made a powerful case for action when he said that the support he relied upon when he slept rough 10 years ago is no longer available: “Enough is enough. What are your concrete plans to end rough sleeping?”
Now with all of the manifestos published, we can outline what those concrete plans are. Below is a summary of the relevant commitments in the manifestos of the four largest parties in England, based on the number of MPs elected at the last election:
End rough sleeping by the end of the next Parliament by expanding programmes such as the Rough Sleeping Initiative and Housing First, and bring together local services to meet the health and housing needs of people sleeping on the streets.
Introduce stamp duty surcharge on non-UK resident buyers to fund £120 million to tackle rough sleeping.
Abolish ‘no fault’ evictions and only require one ‘lifetime’ deposit which moves with renters.
End the benefit freeze. Continue the roll out of Universal Credit, and do more to make sure that Universal Credit works for the most vulnerable.
End rough sleeping within five years, with a national plan driven by a prime minister-led taskforce.
£75bn to build 150,000 new council and social homes a year, within five years.
Make available 8,000 additional homes for people with a history of rough sleeping.
Raise the Local Housing Allowance in line with the 30th percentile of local rents.
Earmark an additional £1 billion a year for councils’ homelessness services.
Expand and upgrade hostels; with extra shelters and support in place in all areas over winter.
Repeal the Vagrancy Act.
Ensure that all strategies and services are tailored to understand needs unique to LGBT+ homeless people, particularly young people.
Scrap ‘no fault’ section 21 evictions and replace with open ended tenancies, with rent controls.
Universal Credit will be scrapped. People will immediately be stopped from moving over to the system.
To end rough sleeping within five years, and urgently publish a plan to end all forms of homelessness.
Build at least 100,000 homes for social rent each year.
Exempt groups of homeless people, and those at risk of homelessness, from the Shared Accommodation Rate.
Introduce a ‘somewhere safe to stay’ legal duty for people at risk of sleeping rough.
Ensure financial resources for local authorities to deliver the Homelessness Reduction Act.
Fund councils to deliver over 100,000 new social homes.
Lift the local housing allowance and reconnect it to average area rents.
Give councils clearer guidance and better training on helping homeless people, and fund a wider range of services including Housing First – costs can be met from a £10 billion yearly uplift to council funding.
Refocus council services in this area on homelessness prevention, through expanding and combining multiple funding pots into a single grant distributed to councils.
Repeal the Vagrancy Act.
We didn’t get everything we wanted from all parties, but with a range of clear commitments to end rough sleeping and many welcome policies to achieve that aim we have something to hold each of them to account on.
We believe we can continue to urge whoever wins on Thursday to step up efforts to tackle the homelessness crisis. We are encouraging our supporters and clients to vote on Thursday, and ensure that the next government’s acts to End Homelessness Now. The costs of not acting are too high.
Is the Homelessness Reduction Act doing enough to prevent rough sleeping?
The Homelessness Reduction Act is one of the most significant changes to England’s homelessness legislation in recent decades. It was introduced last year with the aim of preventing people from becoming homeless. However, as the number of people sleeping rough in London rises, Amy Fleming, Public Affairs Officer, writes about the limits to the HRA.
Rough sleeping in England has risen by 165% since 2010. This is nothing short of a national crisis. But worryingly, the latest statistics suggest the problem is getting even worse.
The Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) statistics released last month revealed a 50% increase in the number of new people rough sleeping in London compared to the same period last year. The figures are stark – more than 2,000 people were seen newly sleeping rough on London’s streets between July and September 2019.
The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) was intended to make sure that councils step in earlier to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place. At St Mungo’s, we were strongly supportive of the Act’s passage through parliament, and were pleased to see the new law come into force in April 2018.
The Act placed a new duty on local housing authorities to take reasonable steps to help any eligible person secure accommodation, regardless of whether or not they’re considered to be in ‘priority need’.
In practice, this means that those approaching their council for help receive support in the form of a Personal Housing Plan (PHP), which sets out actions for both the individual and the council to take to prevent their homelessness.
The Government recently asked for feedback on the impact that the Act is having so far. Unfortunately, we responded with evidence that highlighted that it is, in fact, failing to prevent people from sleeping rough.
What are the problems?
Crucially, the HRA does not include a duty on local authorities to provide accommodation to those who are not considered to be in priority need, even if they are at immediate risk of sleeping rough.
CHAIN data shows that, from August 2018 to July 2019, 45% of UK citizens who used the London No Second Night Out service for people newly rough sleeping had approached their council for help in the 12 months before they started sleeping rough. This data is supported by St Mungo’s staff, who say they regularly see people entering No Second Night Out hubs with a PHP from their local authority.
There is also a large proportion of people not from the UK who are sleeping rough but are not eligible for any assistance under the HRA. These people are also unlikely to have access to benefits, housing or healthcare so are left desperate and destitute.
On top of this, the Homelessness Reduction Act has been implemented in an environment where spiralling housing costs, increasing insecurity for private renters and cuts to homelessness services have led to 4,677 people sleeping rough in England on a given night. Local authorities are currently being put in a very difficult position with limited means to support those who approach them for help.
What needs to change?
We think there is still room to improve the Homelessness Reduction Act with a new ‘Somewhere Safe to Stay’ legal duty to protect people at immediate risk of sleeping rough. The duty would require councils to provide a safe place to stay, such as emergency accommodation, so that no one would have to sleep rough after seeking help from their council. This would enable people to have their needs assessed quickly – away from the dangers of the street – and for a longer-term plan to secure settled housing to be put in place.
However, the Act cannot exist in isolation. The issues which cause people to become homeless, and the problems facing those who are already homeless, must also be addressed.
With the general election just around the corner, we believe the next Government has the power to make sure that everybody in our society has a safe and stable home, by putting in place a plan that commits to:
Improving access to truly affordable housing
Strengthening support through the welfare system
Providing long-term, guaranteed funding for services which prevent homelessness and quickly get people off the street and into a stable home
Providing more support for non-UK nationals sleeping rough
Without these changes, the Homelessness Reduction Act in its current form will simply not be able to prevent people from living, and dying, on the streets.
We have joined five other leading homelessness charities to call on all political parties to end homelessness this general election. Read our joint manifesto.
End Homelessness Now – our General Election campaign
In this blog Beatrice Orchard, Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research explains what we’re doing to influence party manifestos and keep homelessness high profile during this general election campaign.
We should all have a safe place to call home.
Instead, rough sleeping has soared 165% since 2010 and thousands of families and individuals across Britain are stuck in emergency accommodation and sleeping on friends’ floors or sofas.
For many, homelessness is a death sentence. Let’s never forget that 726 people died while homeless in England and Wales in 2018.
At St Mungo’s, we don’t think this is acceptable and we’re certain the public doesn’t either. That’s why we’re working with five other homelessness charities ahead of the general election next month to call on every political party to commit to a plan to #EndHomelessness, and we’re encouraging everyone to join in.
What could be more persuasive than six of the country’s leading homelessness charities working together to review the evidence, listen to the lived experience of our clients, and produce a joint manifesto outlining the reforms we all agree are needed.
The next Government has the power to make sure that everybody in our society has a safe and stable home, by putting in place a plan that commits to:
Improving access to truly affordable housing.
Strengthening support through the welfare system.
Providing long-term, guaranteed funding for services which prevent homelessness and quickly get people off the street and into a stable home.
Nearly £1 billion per year has been cut from homelessness services since 2008/9. Housing benefit doesn’t cover the cost of rent, and there is a dire shortage of social housing. We want as many people as possible to help us point this out to the candidates and parties campaigning in the election, and encourage them to include the right solutions in their manifestos.
As always, we’ll also be supporting our clients to have their say by helping them to register to vote and seeking their input throughout the campaign.
Dominic Williamson, Executive Director of Strategy and Policy, St Mungo’s, talks about the review he undertook into our approach to working with Home Office enforcement teams between 2010 and 2017.
Today (5 Nov 2019) St Mungo’s publishes an internal review I was asked to undertake by our board of trustees in response to criticism of St Mungo’s for “collaborating” in the Government’s “hostile environment” migration policy.
Our charity has spent 50 years helping people who are homeless and destitute on the streets around us. The desire to help was, and still is, melded with a real of sense of injustice and anger that our society seems unable – or perhaps unwilling – to guarantee the very basic of safety nets that might prevent our fellow citizens ending up deprived of dignity and the most essential necessity of life: a home.
This societal failing seems more intractable when the people are from elsewhere. Fifty years ago it was often people from Scotland or Ireland on the streets of London. This decade, alongside growing numbers of UK citizens sleeping rough, the “outsider”, has been more likely to be from Poland or the Roma community in Romania.
Over the years St Mungo’s has channelled that sense of solidarity and anger into developing our services and into campaigning for change. For us, the two go hand in hand.
By the mid-2000s, government investment in services and reform meant the numbers on the streets had fallen by two thirds. Part of this success came from a close relationship between local authorities, charities and other partners, working together in partnership with a common goal of reaching out to and helping people to come off the streets for good. In some situations joint work included an enforcement element, for example, working with the police to tackle large encampments in order to reach exploited or vulnerable people.
While the numbers of UK citizens on the streets was falling, the accession to the EU of East European countries and the resulting migration brought a new group of people on to the streets. This was of such concern that in 2008 the Labour government’s new rough sleeping strategy promised that the Home Office would assist in finding solutions.
Engagement by the Home Office started as a pilot in Westminster in early 2010 and then extended to other areas in the next few years. Home Office Immigration Compliance and Enforcement (HO-ICE) teams conducted joint operations with local councils often working alongside outreach workers, including teams from St Mungo’s and other charities. The HO-ICE teams issued “minded to remove” warning letters explaining to the individual that if they continued to sleep rough, not exercise their EU treaty rights nor engage with realistic options off the streets, they could be detained and removed back to their home country in the EU.
For the homelessness charities involved this approach was seen as an extension of the “assertive outreach” model that had become established good practice over the previous decade. The warning of potential action by the Home Office was considered to be a proactive tool, giving outreach workers time to engage and support a change in behaviour before the threat of any enforcement action became a reality. The approach included the option to share basic information without consent as part of efforts to encourage people to take up options away from the dangers of the street.
Were St Mungo’s and the other charities wrong to work in this way?
Dying on the streets
During the review I spoke to colleagues who felt strongly for and against this approach.
Some colleagues said that by working in this way people would stop trusting outreach workers, avoid being found or even become aggressive towards them.
On the other side, those who supported it strongly felt this joint work was morally justified by the reality of the alternative: growing numbers of people left to become unwell, and frequently dying on the streets.
I heard some horrific stories from colleagues about the conditions in which people were living. One worker graphically described stepping through human excrement to get to a hidden area in a park where people were living in makeshift structures. Another explained how people were driven to stealing alcohol-based hand sanitiser from hospitals to drink. Emails I found in the review showed our teams sometimes working with severely mentally ill people where it was essential to establish where the person was from and that meant contacting the Home Office.
In many other cases it was clear that outreach colleagues were able to advocate for EU citizens, support them into work or tenancies and help them demonstrate to the Home Office that they were starting to exercise their treaty rights.
Change in approach
Then in May 2016 the Government introduced a change in policy that began to treat rough sleeping in itself as a breach of EU treaty rights (a policy which was ruled unlawful by a judicial review in December 2017). This policy change meant the window of opportunity to positively engage with clients became shorter and the rapid use of detention and removal became more likely.
As a consequence from July 2016 outreach managers at St Mungo’s agreed a change in approach, which said that working with the Home Office should become a last resort.
In the years before this, the Home Secretary Theresa May had announced her intention to make Britain a “hostile environment” for illegal migrants. This was quickly followed by the infamous advertising vans telling illegal migrants to “Go Home” and legislation requiring landlords to check the migration status of their tenants.
Campaigners against the hostile environment practice and rhetoric began to see any charity working with the Home Office as “collaborators”. St Mungo’s suddenly found itself the target of critical media reports and activist campaigning. For colleagues in outreach teams who had worked tirelessly to find solutions for homeless migrants, this criticism was particularly upsetting.
This has been a difficult and painful experience for St Mungo’s. Which is why it is important that the review has highlighted a number of critical lessons for us. We made a number of mistakes – including not communicating our change in approach to all teams clearly enough, which meant that one outreach team out of 18 continued to share information with the Home Office until February 2017.
We also need to be very careful when we are under public scrutiny to make sure we know all the facts before responding. And we need to be better at explaining our position where we are taking risks in the interests of our clients.
The executive team accepts that we could have done better. That said, the review found that St Mungo’s always acted lawfully and our outreach focus was, and continues to be the welfare of those we seek to help. Critically, I found no evidence that any individual suffered harm as a result of our approach.
Our policy on information sharing today.
My review dealt with the past, but going forward St Mungo’s is committed to continuing to deliver services to help migrants who are sleeping rough. I am proud of what we do to provide options to people who are destitute and have too few options because of their migration status.
Today we are accommodating more than 50 people who have no recourse to public funds whilst we work with them and our partners in the migrant advice sector to resolve their immigration status and help them find a home for good.
We will continue to evolve our approach but always with the safety, wellbeing and rights of our clients at the forefront.
And St Mungo’s policy on sharing information today is clear: we will not share any information about our clients with the Home Office without the client’s full and informed consent unless we are legally obliged to do so. If the request for information from the Home Office is related to safeguarding concerns, the senior safeguarding lead will assess whether releasing any information is necessary and proportionate. If they find data sharing is justified, the information will be shared with the local authority safeguarding team only, not directly with the Home Office.
The challenge continues
As we publish the review, the situation in relation to people who are sleeping rough remains complex and challenging. We will continue to do what we can to reach out to and help more people off the streets, whatever their immigration status.
My great hope is that going forward everyone who is concerned about this crisis on our streets will work together to urge the next government to take real action to support people to come in from the cold and to prevent more people dying on our streets.