Discussion focused on lessons to be learned form Covid-19 and next steps to end rough sleeping

A cross-party commitment to end rough sleeping within this Parliament by tackling its underlying causes was given during an MPs’ event hosted by leading homelessness charity St Mungo’s held yesterday (25 March).

Eddie Hughes MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Housing and Rough Sleeping, Shadow Secretary of State for Housing and Labour MP for Bristol West Thangam Debbonaire MP, and Tim Farron MP, Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Housing, Communities and Local Government, all gave their support to the aim during the virtual roundtable hosted by the charity.

The trio, who made up the panel for the event, had the chance to talk with Andrew, a client of St Mungo’s who shared his lived experience of homelessness and mental health.

The MPs also heard first-hand  from the charity’s front line staff about the work of homelessness charities, and St Mungo’s collaborative work as a service provider; what made the ‘Everyone In’ scheme a success, and discussed what can be done to build on these achievements in the future.

Twenty parliamentarians, and policy makers in health and homelessness attended to discuss the importance of continued partnership working and of public health being a crucial part of the approach to ending rough sleeping.

Reflecting on the efforts of St Mungo’s and other homelessness charities, Mr Hughes, said: “In the last 12 months, we’ve seen an incredible effort from homelessness charities, public health bodies and local and central government. Now, we need to strengthen these relationships as we continue to work together to end rough sleeping for good.

“For too many years rough sleeping has been seen primarily as a result of the housing deficit rather than the presence of complex issues including physical and mental health, personal experiences, social care and the criminal justice system. I’m determined to change this by tackling the underlying causes of rough sleeping.

“My job is to draw in commitment from other Government departments and make sure people understand that homelessness isn’t just an MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) issue.”

Ms Debbonaire said: “A home should be a human right. It’s been absolutely brilliant to see what can be done when high political will is coupled with the money, time, resources and energy of councils, of hotels, of local Government and homelessness organisations across the country.”

With Mr Farron adding: “We wouldn’t be where we are without people like St Mungo’s on the ground able to support people. It would be a national disgrace if we were to edge away from the urgency that was deployed because of Covid-19.”

Andrew, who is being supported by St Mungo’s and is currently staying in interim accommodation in Oxford, said: “I had been sleeping rough on the River Thames just south of Oxford before being introduced to St Mungo’s. The support I’m receiving, especially in the context of interim accommodation, is a positive game-changer.

“For those people who are sleeping rough, life is chaotic and unstable. This is substantially reduced by temporary accommodation and the provision of a room, a chance for some sleep, the ability to shower and wash on a regular basis and keep your clothes clean.

“These factors and the improved access to help such as medical and financial support, and long-term housing, improves outcomes.

“Such accommodation should be looked on as long-term standard rather than a temporary response. I would urge that we look into continuing that accommodation in whatever form we can find, in suitable places where the support that is so desperately needed can be given.”

The event also heard from St Mungo’s Kathleen Sims, Head of St Mungo’s Westminster outreach team and Nayo Hunt, a service manager from one of the 30 emergency hotels managed by the charity during the pandemic.

They both highlighted the “pivotal” results of Everyone In. And the hope that in future, if a reduction in the number of people sleeping on the streets is achieved, the charity’s frontline focus will be able to shift away from outreach, to focusing more on supporting people with multiple needs to move on in their journey to find stability, and a long term home.

The event follows the launch earlier this week of the Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping, which will examine and learn the lessons from the emergency response which supported people sleeping rough during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chief Executive of St Mungo’s Steve Douglas CBE, who is advising the Commission, said: “As an organisation delivering services, it’s vital for us that parliamentarians can learn from direct frontline experience and the lived experience of our clients.

“It was fantastic to hear from Kathleen, Nayo and especially from our client Andrew, and we were pleased to facilitate this cross-party, cross-departmental discussion into changing the way we address homelessness and rough sleeping.

“We will be working hard to influence the Government policies that positively impact our clients, and to find solutions to those policies that have a negative impact, too.

“The independent Kerslake Commission will look at practical solutions and we will take information from today’s event forward into future discussions.”

* To mark the achievements of the past year, St Mungo’s will be highlighting some of the life-changing work done with partners using #WhenWeWorkTogether via its social media accounts.

To find out more visit the website where you will find a videos from St Mungo’s teams from across the country, clients detailing their experiences during the last year, and a message from St Mungo’s patron TV presenter Phil Spencer.