As the Government publishes its new Rough Sleeping Strategy, Beatrice Orchard, St Mungo’s Head of Policy, Campaigns and Research, welcomes a good first step, but calls for more work to ensure no one has to sleep rough ever again
At the last count 4,751 people were sleeping rough on any one night in England. Each one vulnerable to poor health, violence and premature death. No one should have to suffer the damaging long-term consequences of not having a roof over their head or the support they need.
Rough sleeping is a problem caused by many individual, structural and societal factors. There are no quick solutions, but that doesn’t mean rough sleeping can’t be solved.
Stopping the scandal
Shocked, like others at the sharp rise in rough sleeping since 2010, St Mungo’s launched its Stop the Scandal campaign to demand a new cross-government strategy to end rough sleeping.
The snap General Election in 2017 provided an opportunity to work with other homelessness charities to make rough sleeping a priority for politicians, and both the Conservative and Labour parties committed to end rough sleeping in their election manifestos.
The Government’s target is to end rough sleeping by 2027 and this week it has published a rough sleeping strategy as a first step towards realising this vision of a country where no one has to sleep rough.
A good first step
The strategy is backed by £100 million to fund measures to prevent rough sleeping, help people off the street quickly and support them to settle into a home. It’s a really good first step.
The Somewhere Safe to Stay pilots will provide more emergency accommodation where people in crisis can have their needs assessed quickly, in safety away from the street. It is vital these services are targeted at those at immediate risk of sleeping rough, as well as those already on the street. Getting this approach right should pave the way for desperately needed reforms, preventing people sleeping rough in the first place.
The initial investment in health services for people who sleep rough, in support for non-UK nationals and in floating support services to help people hang on to their home is also welcome.
The challenges ahead
The big challenge for the Government, and where the strategy falls short, is providing enough stable, safe and affordable housing. According to the evaluation of the Rough Sleepers Initiative in the 1990s, 5,500 people were housed in 3,500 units of permanent accommodation in London alone over a nine year period. Delivering more homes for people with a history of rough sleeping should be an urgent priority for the Government and housing providers.
The strategy pledges to learn from new evidence in order to scale up and roll out programmes. We will be holding the Government to this pledge. We must move on from pilots and short-term cash injections and towards a long-term plan and investment.
When it comes to learning lessons, there is a particularly welcome commitment to ensure there are more reviews into the deaths of people who die while rough sleeping to help services improve. It is desperately sad that this commitment is even needed, but the rising number of rough sleeper deaths is another reminder of why this strategy has to mark the turning point in the history of rough sleeping in our country.
We share the Government’s vision of a future where no one has to sleep rough. But this is only the first step. While the new rough sleeping strategy is important, to meet their target of ending rough sleeping by 2027, the government must set out a plan to stop people becoming homeless in the first place.