This week at the Houses of Parliament St Mungo’s released a research report highlighting the role of essential support services in ending rough sleeping. Robyn Casey, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, reflects on the findings and how the Government can take action to ensure everyone can have a Home for Good.
Last month, homelessness outreach teams and volunteers went out across England to count the number of people who were sleeping rough for official Government figures. Over recent years, these counts have revealed shocking trends as between 2010 and 2017 the number of people sleeping rough had more than doubled.
At St Mungo’s we’re working towards a time when there is no one sleeping rough, but know that there is much more work to be done to end rough sleeping for good.
Everyone deserves a home for good
The Government has promised to end rough sleeping by 2027, and our Home for Good campaign outlines the steps they need to take to achieve this.
For starters, it is crucial that more housing is available to people with a history of sleeping rough, and that these homes are affordable, long term options.
That’s why we’re calling on the Government to embark on an ambitious programme to build more social housing, with some of these new homes reserved for people who have slept rough. Reform of the private rented sector – including making tenancies more stable and limiting rent increases – will also mean that fewer people will face eviction from their home.
However, we know that it takes more than a roof over someone’s head to end homelessness. Some people need additional support to keep their home for good. At St Mungo’s, we work with people who have a range of support needs. For example, in 2017-18, 50% of people seen sleeping rough in London had a mental health problem, 43% had a problem with alcohol use and 40% had a problem with drug use.
Many others who have a history of sleeping rough struggle to manage a tenancy without support to pay their bills, speak to their landlord, or manage a welfare claim. Floating support services can help them to do this.
Floating support provides the help that people need
Floating support workers help stop people returning to the streets by providing support to people in their own home. This support is tailored to the person but can involve helping people to keep on top of their bills and control their finances; manage mental health or substance use problems; navigate the benefits system; or get into training or employment.
Evidence shows these types of services both reduce the amount of rent arrears that people with a history of homelessness can build up and the number of people who are taken to court over rent arrears. They can also help people with a long history of rough sleeping to get, and keep, their homes.
But unfortunately, funding for these services has declined dramatically over the past five years. At the same time, rough sleeping has hugely increased.
Funding cuts have put these services at risk of closure
We asked local authorities for details about their floating support contracts between 2013 and 2018. Shockingly, we found that funding for these services had decreased by an average of 18% across England. The funding cuts were even starker at a regional level, with a 41% reducation across London and 26% across the South East. Tellingly, these are the areas with the highest proportion of people sleeping rough in England.
We also looked at funding for specialist services. Whilst funding for generic services, which anyone can access, increased by 5% over the five year period, specialist services for people with mental health needs declined by 44% and for ex-offenders declined by an astonishing 88%.
These specialist services are important because floating support workers are experts in helping people to access the right healthcare for them and in advising them of their rights. Without this expertise, some people will fall through the cracks.
Homelessness services, including floating support, need long term guaranteed funding to ensure they are available to everyone who needs them. But for too long these services have faced funding cuts and insecurity.
Getting everyone the support they need
Our Home for Good campaign is calling on the government to put an end to rough sleeping by ensuring that everyone gets the long term housing and support they need to rebuild their lives.
The Government can make this happen by urgently reviewing the decline in funding for housing related support services, including floating support, and committing to guaranteeing funding for local authorities to plan and commission homelessness services. They should also ensure that local homelessness and rough sleeping strategies include a focus on ongoing support, including floating support services.
Help us end rough sleeping for good by signing Kevin’s open letter to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.