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

    General Election Twitter

    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.

    The concern over rising homelessness hasn’t gone unnoticed by politicians on the campaign trail. Boris Johnson has called homelessness “a scourge of our society” and Jeremy Corbyn said rough sleeping was a “disgrace”. It’s a good start, but now we need to get them talking about the right solutions to ending all forms of homelessness.

    At St Mungo’s we know we can be more influential when working in partnership with others, which is why we’ve joined forces with Centrepoint, Crisis, Depaul, Homeless Link and Shelter this general election.

    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.

    Find out how you can help too by visiting the End Homelessness Now campaign website and join the call to #EndHomelessness in this general election.

    A critical issue

    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.

    Common goal

    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.

    Critical lessons

    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.

    Anne-Marie on climbing Ben Nevis

    Image: Ben Nevis

    Last week a group of St Mungo’s staff, supporters, volunteers and clients climbed Ben Nevis. Anne-Marie a client of St Mungo’s shares her story.

    Hi my name’s Anne-Marie and I’ve lived in a St Mungo’s project for a year and a half now. When I was asked if I wanted to climb Ben Nevis I realised that the challenge was not only climbing the mountain, but the social aspect in itself was a challenge too due to my anxiety.

    I had a few conversations with Natalie the manager at my project regarding Ben Nevis and we both felt disillusioned in terms of actually climbing the mountain and its difficulty. But, I wanted to push myself and I wanted to start and complete something. I wanted to prove to myself that ‘beyond fear lies freedom’.

    On 10 September, I and 48 others travelled to Scotland to climb Ben Nevis. We arrived at the hostel where I shared a room with Natalie and two others. It was actually loads of fun and we had lots of laughs. I woke up on the day of the climb quite excited.

    I hadn’t fully realised what I was about to embark on! After less than a minute of walking, we encountered our first incline. It was appropriately named ‘heart attack hill’. It was so, so steep! I started to doubt I’d be able to make it to the top.

    Image: Annie Marie climbing Ben NevisI was constantly at the back of my group having to catch up. My team literally saved me though. They carried my rucksack the whole way so that it was easier for me. Halfway up, the guide gave me his walking sticks too. Younis, a fellow team member, helped immensely. He told me to stop as often as I needed to and that he’d stick with me regardless.

    As we were nearing the top, the guide suggested to Beth that I and two others should turn back as we were running out of time in the cold weather. When they asked me, I said no – I have come too far to go back now! We were literally 30 minutes from being on top of the highest mountain in Great Britain.

    After, I had a small wobble and told Younis I wanted to go down but he strongly encouraged me to carry on, so I persevered. I am so incredibly happy that I did! I made it to the top! It took a mighty effort getting up there.

    At the top, we were in the clouds, being hammered by 50mph winds, whilst rain that felt like tiny bullets were hitting our faces. The sense of achievement was overwhelming. There was one problem though – now we had to get back down!

    Going down the mountain was an extremely different type of challenge. It was actually pretty scary! With the cliff edge being adjacent to you and the path relatively narrow, it was quite nerve racking – especially as the paths had unstable rocks and stones.

    Going down reinforced my disbelief and utter amazement that I just climbed Ben Nevis because it was so steep! Most of the groups we were in initially became dispersed on the way down and there were pockets of people scattered all over.

    Going down, the path felt treacherous but everyone’s mentality was amazing. I found myself walking down alone at one point; I fell on my ankle and members of another group supported me to get back on my feet.

    Towards the very end, my legs felt so extremely weak and as if they were trembling. I had to dig deep and persevere. The feeling when I got back to the hostel was not only relief, but elation that I had just got to the highest point in the whole of Great Britain! What an incredible achievement.

    I couldn’t have completed it, if not for my awesome team. The encouragement and support, the laughs and smiles, the group determination and fight all combined had such a significant impact. I felt like we were all in the challenge as one. The unity we had had such a positive influence. We were all united in the sense of pride we felt, not only for ourselves, but for the whole St Mungo’s team.

    Collectively, we prevailed over the physical and mental challenge that Ben Nevis presented us with. I am so glad that I was a part of this, not only did I overcome a huge challenge but I met some truly awesome people.

    Climbing the mountain and meeting people like Steve and Beth has inspired me to push my body and I am now thinking of working towards running a half marathon. Ben Nevis certainly will have a lasting impact!

    Find out more about Team Mungo’s climbing Ben Nevis.

    St Mungo’s Annual Hiking Challenge

    Image: Scafell Pike

    Our Community and Events Manager, Beth, has helped organise our annual hiking challenge since its inception three years ago. She shares her experience from previous treks, what she’s expecting for this year’s Ben Nevis climb and why the challenge is such a collaborative effort.

     

    Listen to Beth’s full interview or read our Q&A below.

    Tell us a bit about yourself

    I work in our fundraising team and manage our community, events and regional fundraising teams. I have been involved with our client hiking challenge for the last three years. This year for our third challenge and also our 50th anniversary we are taking on Ben Nevis in Scotland.

    How did the challenge begin?

    Our clients were asked in a senior leadership meeting how they can help support fundraising and give back to St Mungo’s and challenge themselves in their road to recovery. Two of our fantastic clients Claire and Mandy came up with the idea of climbing up some mountains.

    They came up with the very first client-led trip up Mount Snowdon, supported Scafell Pike last year and are joining us for Ben Nevis this year. You can read about Mandy’s journey from homelessness to Mount Snowdon on our blog.

    Image: Mandy on St Mungo's Hiking Challenge

    What is your role?

    My role is to oversee the trip and make sure everything is in place and organised. Mandy and Claire sign off final details; they are very much my bosses not the other way round.

    This year there are 50 people climbing Ben Nevis, a mix of clients, volunteers, staff and supporters. Why do you think the hiking challenge has become so popular?

    We chose to include 50 people to mark our 50th anniversary.

    It is a chance to give our clients a reward for their recovery and an opportunity to explore a new area. Our team is very supportive and when we climb up a mountain our labels get left at the bottom. For clients, where you are in your recovery gets left at the bottom.

    It is just a wonderful thing to offer and that’s why it is so popular for everybody. I feel really privileged that we get to do it year on year.

    Why do you think it is so important to do as a group challenge?

    For some clients who went on Scafell Pike, we saw them really move forward after the trip. A few people have found their own accommodation, they have jobs and they are getting really involved in other St Mungo’s activities.

    It is my job to make sure the second we get down we are talking about the next steps for clients.

    What is your favourite memory from one of the hiking trips?

    One of our female clients really struggled last year. She had a knee operation a year before we went up Scafell Pike. She was struggling and lost her confidence. Another client on his own accord took her bag, held her hand and helped her up the mountain.

    It is that selflessness, empowerment and team spirit that for me is so memorable.

    What has the hiking trip taught you over the years?

    It has taught me a lot about our clients. It has taught me that recovery isn’t linear. You don’t get someone off the street, get someone into a house, get them a job and then it’s all okay. It just doesn’t always work like that.

    I have learnt that if I am consistent with clients and staff, touch base and check that they are okay then people will trust you and relax themselves.

    These hikes give you a chance to get to know people from all walks of life. We are really blessed at St Mungo’s that we are such a diverse group of people. People are always open to get to know each other. It is a good group this year, I am excited.

    Find out more about this year’s Ben Nevis trip.

    Five ways to volunteer your time to help end homelessness

    Mental Health Awareness Week Event

    50 years after St Mungo’s came into existence, it remains a national scandal that so many people are forced to sleep rough on the streets. What remains heartening though, is that so many people also want to find a way to make a difference. In my role as Head of Volunteering, Apprenticeships and Placements, I am regularly asked ‘what can I do to help?’ People often say that they want to make a difference but they’re not sure how. As a charity, we are always looking to harness the goodwill and talents of people who want to donate their time. So, with this in mind, and as we celebrate Volunteers’ Week, here are five practical ways that you can volunteer your time and support St Mungo’s to end homelessness.

    Support someone who is rough sleeping

    Rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness and also the most dangerous. There are a number of ways you can support people who are sleeping rough.

    When the public sees someone sleeping rough in their area, they are encouraged to tell StreetLink, a St Mungo’s run service that connects people to local services that can support them away from the streets. StreetLink is volunteer-led, and they welcome voluntary support all year round, helping respond to referrals made over the phone, online and through their app.

    Referrals from StreetLink help thousands of people sleeping rough access support each year, but our Outreach teams have a lot of ground to cover and our client group is often moving. This means that around 50% of referrals are not found. This is where First Response comes in. First Response volunteers go out to areas to verify referrals and pass on accurate information to the Outreach teams. Volunteers are needed for early and late shifts, playing an essential role so Outreach teams can find people sleeping rough and get them the help that they need.

    Help our clients get creative

    There is lots of research suggesting that if you are in recovery, the opportunity to have a creative outlet helps you to manage emotions, learn new skills and engage in group settings. At St Mungo’s, we support clients through a recovery approach. A big part of this involves encouraging clients to engage with creative activities, either at their accommodation or at our Recovery Colleges. If you have a skill in the arts, music or drama, then you can pass on your knowledge to our clients and facilitate a vital step in their recovery journey.

    Improve health outcomes

    Rough sleeping is dangerous, and the effects of homelessness will often have a significant impact on the physical and mental health of our clients. Our services work with our clients with the aim of improving their access to health services, while decreasing health inequalities for those whose housing situation is vulnerable and/or temporary. Demystifying health conditions and treatment is an important part of this. We involve volunteers with a medical background and qualifications, or those in training, to develop and deliver workshops on a range of health topics including nutrition, mental wellbeing, healthy lifestyles, nutrition, diet, physical activity, diabetes, substance use, blood-borne viruses (BBV) and sexual health.

    Help our clients learn to read and write

    For many of us, settling down with a good book is a pleasure. However at the end of the last financial year, around 17% of our clients needed support with literacy. Not being able to read or write can make even some of the most everyday tasks very difficult. Volunteers at our Recovery Colleges and across St Mungo’s, support clients to develop their literacy skills and increase their confidence in a friendly, inclusive environment.

    Cook up a storm

    Food – who doesn’t love food? We know that giving our clients the skills and knowledge to cook healthy and nutritious food on a budget will help them to move away from homelessness and towards independence. If there are budding Jamie Olivers among you, running a cooking class in one of our accommodation services will make a real difference as we prepare our clients for independent living.

     

    Volunteering at St Mungo’s gives you the opportunity to make a real difference to some of the most vulnerable in society. We value our volunteers and the contribution they make. A comprehensive induction and training programme, and ongoing support from a central team and your local supervisor, will be an important part of your volunteering journey with us.

    We have been accredited with Investing in Volunteers since 2011 and, just this month, we were reaccredited, thanks to the sustained quality of our volunteer management practices.

    Our volunteering opportunities are available on our website, and our recruitment sessions, which run twice monthly, will help you to understand the impact of your contribution.

    Happy Volunteers’ Week 2019, and we look forward to seeing you soon!

    New homelessness boards

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

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

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

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

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

    What are Homelessness Reduction Boards?

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

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

    A challenging backdrop

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

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

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

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

    Investing the funding that’s needed

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

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

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

    Read our full response to the consultation.

    Helping women who are homeless after a prison sentence

    All people returning from prison are at risk of homelessness, but women face specific complex issues. Ruth Legge from our Offender Services, explains how St Mungo’s works with women while they are in prison, and after release, to help them find long term accommodation.

    You may have seen recent news that the Government has shelved plans for five new community prisons for women. These were to be residential centres where women are given access to training and therapy to help them break out of cycles of re-offending.

    We were disappointed to see this, as we believe our work with women offenders, when they are in prison and after they are released, offers a strong model for support. St Mungo’s has been working in women’s prison for many years and we think we have a good understanding of, and insight, into their specific needs.

    In our experience, women leaving prison face many complex issues around homelessness. Offending behaviour can be linked to poor mental health, drug and/or alcohol use, partner violence, other sexual violence, loss of child custody, childhood and adult trauma and gang affiliation, to name just a few. On top of that, there is a lack of suitable housing where women can feel safe, secure and start to rebuild their lives.

    A Catch-22 situation

    Women are often the primary care givers for their children prior to being jailed. Once a woman’s children have been removed from her care, she becomes at greater risk of homelessness. The family home might be taken away from her, as she is no longer seen as needing so many rooms. The council might also no longer consider her a ‘priority need’ to be rehoused if the children are not returned to her care upon release.

    Many women in prison find themselves in a ‘catch-22’ scenario. They are only granted custody of their children if they have suitable accommodation in place after they are released. But more often than not the local authority won’t help to provide any accommodation until they already have custody. In these cases we work alongside social services, statutory authorities and Reunite programmes to support women in finding accommodation, with or without their children.

    Domestic violence

    Domestic violence is also a big issue. Some women in custody have tenancies when they come to prison but can’t return because a violent partner is still residing in the property.

    Many women flee their homes in order to escape from domestic violence. Often they are too scared to contact the police. The council may then deem them “intentionally homeless” and isn’t under any obligation to help them find accommodation.

    We see a lot of women who were rough sleeping prior to custody, even though they still hold a tenancy. They often tell us they feel safer on the street than returning to live with a violent partner. Some women feel they have no choice but to return to violent partners. They tell us that, because they are coming from prison, they feel they won’t be believed or provided with appropriate safe accommodation.

    We work with domestic violence teams and help refer women to refuges if they cannot return to their homes. We also support them to appeal claims that they are intentionally homeless.

    Some women we work with are involved in prostitution. Because they are active at night, but sleep during the day, if they are staying in a hostel they are at risk of being evicted if the hostel says they aren’t spending enough nights there.

    These rooms are sometimes the only place a woman has to call her own and feel safe in, so we try to liaise with hostels to keep bed spaces open. There is almost always a link between involvement in prostitution and substance use. Women who are still using drugs and alcohol are at particular risk of homelessness as they are usually not able to sustain independent accommodation, nor would the local authority deem them a priority need for accommodation.

    The Government has several new and forthcoming strategies on issues such as female offending, rough sleeping and domestic abuse. St Mungo’s believes there must be clear and consistent links between them all in order to achieve a difference in the lives of the women we support.

    Dedication and commitment

    Adil and Mohammed pictured above with Horn of Africa project manager, Pippa Brown

    To mark Refugee Week, Helen Kirk, Refugee Skills Development Advisor at St Mungo’s Horn of Africa Health and Wellbeing Project, tells us about two inspirational people who volunteer on the project

    The Horn of Africa Project was set up in in 2013 to respond to the needs of people from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan who were turning to our centre in Shepherd’s Bush for support. Over half of our clients have been recognised as refugees within the last few years. We help them with advice, signposting and one-to-one holistic casework.

    Employment outcomes for refugees are well below the UK average, with over half of those employed feeling overqualified in their jobs. It’s my job to help bridge this gap, through things like one-to-one careers coaching, providing advice on education and training, co-facilitating peer-led groups and creating volunteer opportunities.

    Our project is supported by a small number of fantastic volunteers, but this Refugee Week, we would like to particularly thank Adil and Mohammed, who both sought sanctuary in the UK. Despite the many challenges they have faced, they both have shown dedication and commitment to the project. They have helped with casework, shared their ideas and their knowledge about the practical and cultural needs of the Horn of Africa community, and have given us suggestions for how the project might respond to those needs.

    Adil says: “When I came over to this country, I was very much in need of help. The only people I found to offer me this support was St Mungo’s. They taught me how the humanity look like. For this reason I strongly need to involve in this community to reduce destitution amongst the refugee and homelessness… I am very fascinated of helping the destitute people as I am one of them and born in a very poor environment, that is why I know how the person feel when he is in a trauma or suffer a loss.”

    Mohammed told us: “I … volunteer because I’m a refugee and was homeless at one point in my life. I want to give back to the people who are in need of any help.”

    Mohammed and Adil are working towards rebuilding their respective careers in law and finance, and are re-qualifying at university. They are driven to support others as they do so. They both recently won Volunteer of the Year London Awards at St Mungo’s Volunteer Awards in partnership with the Marsh Christian Trust, and we can’t think of two people who deserve it more. I feel privileged to work alongside them while they fulfil their goals.

    Find out more about the contributions refugees have made across the world.

    Thanks to our award-winning volunteers

    Iver Morgan, our Head of Volunteering, Apprenticeships and Placements, thanks our amazing and dedicated volunteers as Volunteers’ Week 2018 comes to a close.

    On Monday I had the great pleasure of hosting our annual Volunteering Awards celebration in Southwark.

    This is a wonderful occasion when we get to say thank you and present awards to some of our outstanding volunteers who’ve supported our clients and our work over the past 12 months – and in many cases, much longer. Once again, we held this at the Table Café, who generously support us in many ways throughout the year.

    One award recipient was Jen Burnham, who’s helped us publish our Homeless Diamonds magazine for 20 years. I encourage you to read her blog about how she got started and what she enjoys about it – a great read.

    I’d also like to thank the Marsh Christian Trust, who enabled us to present these awards for the last four years. We very much appreciate their support.

    Over an average year around 900 people volunteer with us. They provide support to outreach services, helping people sleeping rough, run activity groups and offer information and advice. This makes it very difficult to pick out individuals.

    However, alongside Jen, we thought this year that awards should go to Mohammed, Adil, Tee, Juliet and Rebecca.

    Volunteers of the Year went to Mohammed and Adil. They volunteer with the Horn of Africa Health and Wellbeing Project in London, which was set up in 2013 to respond to the needs of individuals from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan who had been affected by homelessness. The project is funded by Big Lottery Fund, through the Reaching Communities funding stream, and provides advice on entitlements, access to physical and mental health services, work and learning opportunities, community activities and support to overcome isolation. Mohammed and Adil had both previously approached the project for support when they found themselves homeless as a result of being recognised as a refugee and wanted to give something back. This is a fantastic achievement.

    Outstanding Achievement (London) went to Tee. She is a volunteer with the Women’s Group of our client body, Outside In, and facilitates creative and therapeutic sessions each month with women across St Mungo’s services. She is also a Client Advisory Board Member and meets with the Board of Trustees every six weeks to work on the strategic aims of the organisation and ensure the client voice is heard at the top level of governance. Tee draws on her own experiences and uses this as her motivation. Tee spoke in Parliament recently on behalf of St Mungo’s at an event led by SafeLives, a charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse.

    We were also pleased to recognise volunteers who work with us in the south west of England.

    Volunteer of the Year (south west) is Juliet. She volunteers with the Bristol Assertive Contact and Engagement (ACE) service, where she is an invaluable asset to the service, thanks to her unwavering commitment, enthusiasm and energy. She volunteers with the Women’s Morning wellbeing support group, the Breathing Space group, which provides mental health support for single parents in Knowle West and the LGBTQ+ group, One World. The team says “she goes above and beyond what is expected of her by stepping in and helping whenever she is needed”.

    Outstanding Achievement (south west) went to Rebecca. She now volunteers as a Peer Mentor at Mulberry House and Mews in Bath but since completing Peer Mentor training, she has offered a different form of arts or crafts each week. This has engaged clients and enabled them to try a range of new things. She is now able to offer one-to-one support to clients both at Mulberry and in the local community.

    Volunteers are an integral part of St Mungo’s and we recognise and value the huge contribution they make. In return, we aim to offer a rewarding experience by providing opportunities to make a significant contribution to help end homelessness, to develop skills in a supportive environment, access training and meet like-minded people.

    If you’ve been inspired, please do take a look at our Volunteering opportunities. We look forward to hearing from you.

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