Helping homeless people escape life on the street perversely serves to intensify the housing crisis, writes Jonathan Drake – another reason we urgently need a long-term strategy for genuinely affordable homes
THE end of this month will see Greater Manchester’s much-lauded A Bed Every Night project draw to a close.
The pioneering initiative launched by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham last November has given more than 1,600 homeless people a warm place to stay during the cold winter nights.
Of those, almost 500 have now been supported into a permanent home, making a huge impact on the homelessness crisis that is gripping our region.
It’s been a real collaborative approach with local authorities and housing providers, including Salix Homes, joining forces to provide a roof over the head of any homeless person who wants one.
The scheme is one of several strategies being rolled out in Greater Manchester to tackle the homelessness epidemic.
The statistics are impressive and such initiatives are making a real difference for rough sleepers in our region, but the real test is not how many homeless people are helped off the streets now, but how many remain off the streets next winter and the one after that.
It is the system that is broken, and short-term fixes will not fit the long-term problem.
A number of programmes, borne out of Greater Manchester Housing Providers partnership that mine and 25 other GM housing organisations are part of, are beginning to help change that.
The Housing First programme starts later this year. This will see a pilot project launched, inspired by a similar scheme in Finland, whereby stable housing is used as a platform to enable individuals with multiple and complex needs to begin recovery and move away from homelessness.
And the Social Impact Bond (SIB) programme is already bearing fruit, having supported more than 200 of the region’s most entrenched rough sleepers into stable housing.
But it’s essential that these and any other homelessness strategies create a full-scale system change – one that goes beyond the length of these programmes.
It’s encouraging to see that the SIB programme is already having an impact and paving the way for change – particularly in the way rough sleepers are handled by the justice system.
Currently it is like a revolving door where a homeless person shoplifts or begs, because they have no money, they’re caught and sent to prison for a short sentence, before being released back onto the streets where they’re caught stealing again because they have no money or place to live. It’s a vicious circle.
But with the changes that are afoot under the SIB scheme, at the point of recall to prison, they are referred to the programme which supports them to move away from a life on the streets.
While it’s essential we do help more people off the streets, the impact of such programmes will only worsen the housing crisis and intensify the desperate need for more homes.
There’s already 6,500 on the housing register in Salford, and that doesn’t include rough-sleepers.
We haven’t suddenly built a load of new properties to house everyone – we have just increased demand and competition for the few houses we do have.
The single biggest issue for the housing agenda is supply, but building new homes isn’t the only answer. We need to think smarter about the buildings we’ve already got, and repurpose empty shops, pubs, offices and non-residential units into homes.
It’s a tactic that Salix Homes, and our private sector leasing arm Salix Living, is leading the way on, having already created more than 200 homes in this way, set at affordable rents for those in genuine housing need.
Ultimately it means making an affordable housing strategy the number one priority for each political party manifesto.
Good housing is central to the delivery of good health, with poor housing costing the NHS £1.4 billion each year. Good housing is central to good education and a safe and secure upbringing.
Unless we get our housing strategy right, now, it will have consequences across every part of our society not only for this generation, but for generations to come.
Jonathan Drake is service director at Salix Living, the private sector leasing arm of Salix Homes.