Homelessness isn’t a numbers game, it’s about people, writes Guy Horne; we need to work more collaboratively and pull out all the stops to end the crisis
MORE than 84,000 households across the UK were living in temporary accommodation, including bed and breakfasts and hostels, as of March 2018, according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG). This figure was at its highest level since mid-2007.
What’s more, it’s been highlighted that the lack of robust statistics on the number of rough sleepers means it’s difficult to paint an accurate picture of the total number of people who can be deemed homeless.
So-called “official” estimates in 2018 by the Government suggested 4,677 people were sleeping rough. However, at that time the charity Crisis claimed that figure should be increased fourfold.
The clear thing is: homelessness is a social issue that affects individuals and families in ways most people would not be able to comprehend.
We all know the reasons behind the statistics – from austerity, to escalating private rental fees, and, crucially, a severe lack of social housing. But the issue should not be about numbers; we need to work more collaboratively to find quick, effective solutions to homelessness.
Putting housing first
One such solution is Housing First – a new system being trialled by some local authorities across the UK. As a concept, it gives parity to providing stable accommodation alongside health and wellbeing support. Crucially, it recognises that both affordability and personal issues, such as addiction, are causes of homelessness.
Manchester’s homelessness crisis, especially rough sleeping, is well-documented. In response, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, launched his flagship Housing First scheme in 2018, A Bed Every Night – a UK-first, person-centred approach to homelessness.
The funding to date provides beds and personal support for anyone sleeping on the streets, in conjunction with voluntary and faith organisations, as well as community groups and Registered Providers.
By using an integrated approach, the scheme has successfully helped more than 2,000 people in Greater Manchester to date. For perspective – when compared with the official rough sleeping estimates above – that figure would mean almost half of England’s rough sleepers were based in Manchester, which is far from the reality.
Either way you look at it, we welcome schemes like A Bed Every Night and are pleased to see a further £6 million of funding as part of its second phase – to improve the quality of support, ensuring that people’s specific needs can be met.
The extra financial stimulus intends to train more frontline staff; offer safer, women-only spaces and a provision for couples; and give better access to NHS services for those with complex needs, such as addictions and mental health.
Long-term housing solutions
Manchester is taking a vital step in the right direction when it comes to addressing rough sleeping and homelessness. Yet we believe there’s also an opportunity to forge closer relationships between private developers, Registered Providers and local authorities to bring about more permanent, long-term change.
Greater Manchester has an empty homes problem: University College London research identified that there are more than 19,000 vacant properties in the region, with 1,371 standing empty in Manchester itself.
If we are to get people off the streets or provide long-term housing for families in temporary accommodation, we need to rapidly increase the number of social homes available.
We all know there are nowhere near enough social homes being built from the ground up, so we must work together to look elsewhere, including our region’s empty homes.
At HS Property Group, we acquire properties that are ripe with development potential and refurbish them into high quality houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), which can be used as a stepping stone to finding a permanent place to call home.
Working closely with local authorities, including Manchester, Salford and Oldham councils, we partner with service and care providers to identify those people most in need.
To date, we have housed more than 400 homeless families in these areas, placing them in fully refurbished accommodation.
As the Mayor’s scheme demonstrates, it’s imperative to put political and financial will behind an integrated, inclusive approach to tackling a social issue as complex as homelessness.
While beds for rough sleepers remedy the issue short-term, the true value lies in the access to care and support services, which ultimately should help empower people to live more independent, stable lives.
In short, people are multifaceted, with a vast number of needs, and we need to see them as both individuals and how they function in society.
This requires urgent, closer collaboration between all key stakeholders, with personal care and decent homes in the centre. Only then can we truly make a lasting, transformative change to people’s lives.
Guy Horne is director of HS Property Group