Out of the woods? Tackling homelessness in rural communities

    Rory Weal is Churchill Fellow and former Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer at St Mungo’s. Here he writes about a new report on rural homelessness, and offers solutions for tackling this “forgotten” issue, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Rolling hills, luscious meadows, quaint village living – these are common conceptions of life in rural England.

    But these idyllic images can hide the realities of hardship for too many, not least the thousands who sleep rough in rural communities across the UK. These communities are too often forgotten when we talk about homelessness – but they have been rising in recent years.

    The state of homelessness in rural areas

    Rough sleeping in rural communities had risen 65% since 2010. While between 2018 and 2019 rough sleeping across England fell by 9%, in rural areas numbers actually rose by 2%. The invisible nature of rural homelessness has bred an equal lack of attention in government policy – the result is not enough of the right services and housing, and too many people isolated and at risk as a result. In many cases austerity has hit harder – research by St Mungo’s found that spending on housing support and homelessness services had fallen by a third in Greater London compared to almost three quarters in the South West between 2008/9 and 2017/18.

    But it doesn’t have to be this way. Last week, I published new research on rural homelessness – comparing responses to rural homelessness in England with the United States, where there have been sustained reductions in levels of homelessness in multiple rural states over the past decade.

    Spending time with outreach services and housing first providers, it was clear that when investment and strong strategic oversight is there – results can be delivered. I saw how services can be adapted to rural needs in my outreach shift in West Virginia, where levels of homelessness have fallen by more than a third since 2010.

    Examining rural homelessness in the United States

    Up at the crack of dawn with Beau Stiles, outreach manager, I saw the impact of securing buy-in from local businesses and community, who become powerful referral partners – as often the only point of contact for people sleeping rough in sparse communities with few services. This has been essential to reducing levels of homelessness, as Beau says: “without outreach you won’t touch the most vulnerable people, ever’.

    The premium placed in rural areas of getting community buy-in extends to senior local leaders. In Mississippi, where levels of homelessness have halved over the past decade, I met with perhaps unlikely advocates for  compassionate responses to homelessness, in the form of the police chief of Elvis’s hometown of Tupelo and the state’s Republican supreme court justice. Both were convinced due to effective lobbying from local homeless services.

    But this local level action has not emerged from nowhere – it has been driven by clear political leadership and adequate funding from central government. The approach under the Obama administration to deliver the first ever federal strategy to end homelessness, and expand investment in best practice services such as Rapid Rehousing and Permanent Supportive Housing has paid dividends. This has built on prior federal requirements for ‘continuums of care’ to ensure joined-up delivery of these services all parts of the country, including rural areas. The result in the states I visited is far fewer people experiencing the pain of a night out than there were a decade ago.

    Tackling rural homelessness in the UK following the coronavirus pandemic

    Back in the UK, we now have a golden opportunity to build on the effective measures to tackle rough sleeping we have seen since the coronavirus pandemic began in March.

    As we move to the next phase of the response it is important that rural communities are not forgotten.  That means developing a new cross-government strategy which is truly national in scope, launched by the Prime Minister – as Obama did back in 2010. It also means investing £1bn for homelessness services, and ensuring rural communities get a fair share of funding to deliver tailored services such as outreach to their local needs. Finally, new legal requirements to tackle rough sleeping through new statutory bodies to keep ‘everyone in’ will be a key way of sustaining success in rural communities, in a way that continuums of care have delivered reductions in the US.

    While measures since the coronavirus pandemic will have helped, we aren’t out of the woods yet – these actions from central government are needed to sustain reductions and ensure rural areas are not longer forgotten and ignored. You can read the full report here.

    St Mungo’s Recovery College – online for our clients

    By Holly Smith, Strategic Marketing Officer

    St Mungo’s Recovery College offers our clients the opportunity to engage with learning, training and employment, and to rebuild their lives.

    When the pandemic began, we were in the middle of making a film about a proposed move to a new Recovery College base in London.

    But if there’s anything that I’m sure we’ve all learned in 2020, it’s that every tale can take you somewhere you didn’t expect.

    So we used the opportunity for clients to talk about how the Recovery College responded to the pandemic by moving its classes online.

    The four people involved, Adrian, AJay, Charles, Mincer, plus our Digital Inclusion Coordinator James, have shared their creativity and resilience every step of the way during this strange time.

    They adapted to new technology, learning to work differently and navigated connections – both badly behaved internet ones, and the welcome surprises of those connections forged with others as a result of the pandemic. 

    AJay said: “I am glad to be part of [the film] as I really valued what St Mungo’s is doing for our community. I hope that the organisers of the digital courses continue to thrive in making sure that everyone feels valued in the community so both old and new students enjoy the experience of taking part in more classes as they get to meet more students and tutors.” 

    St Mungo’s Recovery College is a completely fundraised service, made possible by the generosity of our partners and donors. Pre pandemic, there were a number of College bases in London and Bristol with another set to open in Leicester.

    By early June there were 24 Remote Recovery College activities for our clients to choose from, with 15 regular weekly group sessions, in addition to personalised progression coaching and employment support.

    The most popular individual sessions have been the happiness and wellbeing project and creative writing, delivered through Google Hangouts and over the phone. ‘Music, arts and culture’, ‘health, wellbeing and personal development’ and Maths and English have all been popular classes. By June we had delivered 60 one to one digital support sessions to enable people to engage with the College and use their digital devices to stay connected.

    One Recovery College client was supported by a progression coach to sign up to an online Level 2 diploma in counselling. This was something he had wanted to do for a number of months, to work towards his long-term ambition to work in mental health.

    Reta Robinson, St Mungo’s Director of Fundraising, said: “The way the Recovery College adapted so nimbly to the challenges of the pandemic has been a real reflection of the innovation and resourcefulness of our staff, clients and volunteers.”

    Gavin Benn, Head of St Mungo’s Recovery College, said: “It’s great to see more and more clients joining our remote Recovery College programme and to hear how it has supported their journey to learn, grow and be inspired, despite often challenging personal circumstances. My thanks to all those involved in making this fantastic film.”

    The Recovery College is running a summer programme until 28 August and then starts its autumn term on 5 October, until 27 November.

    Find out more about our Recovery College here, and watch more on YouTube. Thanks also to film makers Chocolate Films.

    Take the lead

    And we’re off! Are you ready to Take the Lead and tackle homelessness for St Mungo’s? 

    August 1 marked the start of our Take the Lead Challenge. For the last few months we’ve been urging dog owners across the UK to sign up, get active and Take the Lead in helping to end homelessness this summer.

    The challenge is for dog owners to walk the length of a marathon (26.2 miles) with their furry companions over the 31 days of August.   

    Meet Dexter

    Who’s getting involved?

    To help achieve our fundraising goals, the challenge is being supported by leading brands Lily’s Kitchen and Nationwide Building Society, as well as dog loving comedian and television presenter Paul O’Grady.

    Representing the canine contingent, we’ve also got Instagram sensations, Marcel the Corgi and Bun the Sausage Dog onboard, who along with other participants are aiming 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.

    Why dog walking?

    As one of the leading homelessness charities in England to accept pets into their hostels, here at St Mungo’s, we recognise the hugely powerful and emotional support that animals can bring to someone who is sleeping on the streets. During this pandemic, many people have valued the companionship and support of their pets at an unprecedented time of loneliness and isolation.

    Most recently, St Mungo’s teams have been working round the clock to support vulnerable rough sleepers out of hotels, where they have been self-isolating during the pandemic, and into permanent accommodation.

    So far, more than 300 people have been helped to move into longer term accommodation, with more being supported by the charity every single day and this is just one of the many wonderful projects that your fundraising efforts will go towards helping.

    Meet Bun

    What are our supporters saying? 

    Petra Salva OBE, Director of Rough Sleepers, Ex-Offenders and Migrant Services at St Mungo’s says: “I am signing up to Take the Lead with my dog, Nero. We will be taking on the marathon distance virtually, but united as a team to help end homelessness. St Mungo’s are able to reduce barriers for someone coming off the streets by accepting pets into our hostels and we recognise the powerful emotional support a dog can provide.”

    Paul O’Grady says:

    “This challenge is a fantastic way to get outside with our dogs whilst helping to raise money for St Mungo’s and the brilliant work they do. As a dog lover myself, I know all too well about the incredible impact that they can have on people’s lives, especially during difficult times like these, and I am very pleased to be supporting such a great cause.” 

    Samantha Crossley, Head of Marketing at Lily’s Kitchen says:

    “Lily’s Kitchen is delighted to support St Mungo’s with their Take the Lead Challenge, which highlights the scale of homelessness in the UK today, with 4,266 rough sleepers in England alone.”

    Not only that, but Take the Lead celebrates the special bond between dogs and their pup-parents, the special moments spent together each day exploring the world side by side. Lily’s Kitchen understands this relationship implicitly, as do St Mungo’s, which is why they ensure their clients are not separated from their beloved pets which can be an issue when finding safe accommodation.

    “This is one of the reasons why we have loved supporting them over the years and look forward to doing so in the future.”

    Meet Peggy

    Is there still time to sign up with my dog?

    Of course! Dog walkers can Take the Lead to support vulnerable people by visiting Take the Lead for more information on how to sign up. 

    Meet Dexter the Therapaws dog

    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.


    Interested? Read more about the dog walking challenge here. 

    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.

    Read the full review here.

    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.

    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.

    Find out more on how you can help during the coronavirus crisis.

    Our Women’s Strategy turns 1

    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

    It has never been more important to build alliances and partnerships with women’s organisations so that our clients can have access to the specialist support they deserve. This year, we were delighted to be awarded funding from the Homeless Link Ending Women’s Homelessness Fund for a partnership project led by Standing Together Against Domestic Violence.

    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.

    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 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.

    Knocked Back: My journey of lived experience and peer research

    Phil Knocked Back Peer Researcher

    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.

    As someone with lived experience of rough sleeping and addiction, the opportunity to be involved in St Mungo’s research was a really valuable one. The new report Knocked Back: failing to support people sleeping rough with drug and alcohol problems contained many findings which resonated with my own experiences, including:

    • 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.

    Read our Knocked Back research.

    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:

    Conservatives

    • 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.

    Labour

    • 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.

    Liberal Democrats

    • 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.

    Greens

    • 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.

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