Targeting an end to rough sleeping

By Dan Peters | 20 April 2022

Most people have good things to say about Conservative rough sleeping minister Eddie Hughes.

One civil servant who has worked with him closely described him as a ‘raconteur, funny and personable’. Other words used include ‘down to earth’ and ‘dedicated’.

Hopefully that popularity will stand Mr Hughes in good stead as he tries to deliver the Government’s target of ending rough sleeping in England by 2024 – just two short years away.

In a bid to meet this target – in the wake of Government figures released in February that revealed the number of people sleeping rough decreased by 9% in a year to around 2,440 people in autumn 2021 – Mr Hughes has promised to ‘bring forward a bold, new strategy to end rough sleeping’.

The strategy will detail a plan for how the Government will ‘continue its work to end rough sleeping by ensuring rough sleeping is prevented in the first place and responded to effectively in the rare cases where it occurs’.

‘As the rough sleeping statistics have shown, we’ve made real progress,’ Mr Hughes told a sector event following the publication of the figures.

‘We can and we will end rough sleeping for good and today’s figures show we’re closer than ever to making that happen.’

Even political rivals want Mr Hughes to meet his target.

Greater Manchester’s Labour mayor, Andy Burnham, who has made ending rough sleeping a personal priority, has managed to reduce the figures in his region by 67% since 2017.

One thing that has helped is Greater Manchester piloting the Housing First scheme, where rough sleepers are given an unconditional offer of accommodation in the hope that it will provide them with stability and the breathing space they need to recover.

The pilot has delivered incredible results, with a tenancy sustainment rate of close to 90%, and the Government agreed late last year to extend it to 2024.

Lee Buss-Blair, director of operations at Riverside, which has worked on the Greater Manchester pilot, said Housing First worked best for ‘long-term rough sleepers with the most complex needs who have struggled to maintain other forms of supported accommodation’.

Speaking at the same event as Mr Hughes, Mayor Burnham said the ‘critical difference’ had been designing the scheme together with people who have recent experience of rough sleeping.

‘It has done things that are truly valuable,’ he said.

‘It is a philosophy – not a project.

‘A good home is everyone’s human right. If you set people up to succeed they will succeed. This is the moment where we can make ending rough sleeping a reality.’

Despite the decrease in the number of people sleeping rough, the number of people on the streets is still 38% higher than in 2010, when the data started being collected.

Some have also questioned the Government’s figures, with shadow rough sleeping minister Sarah Owen warning in March that the ‘reality of rough sleeping is far worse than the figures imply’.

And analysis by the People, Places, Policy and Data Unit at Be The Best Communications has found that the number of people living on the streets of London has risen to its highest level in at least a decade, with 2,949 people sleeping rough in the capital alone.

So ministers have been urged to pile further cash into Housing First schemes if they want to meet their looming target.

A report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness called on the Government to invest £451m over three years to expand Housing First services across England.

Rick Henderson, a member of the Government’s rough sleeping advisory panel and chief executive officer of Homeless Link, which is helping to deliver the current stage of the Housing First project, said: ‘If the Government is serious about meeting its target of ending rough sleeping in England by 2024 it must provide further resources to continue their great work.

‘But we also must expand Housing First services beyond the pilots. Our long-term ambition is a national, cross-Government funded Housing First programme.’

Local government minister under Labour, Phil Woolas, added: ‘It is clear that Housing First is where we all need to be. That 2024 target is achievable with Housing First.’

Scottish ministers have already announced the introduction of a Housing First model for homeless people with the most complex needs north of the border.

A spokesperson for the charity Homeless Network Scotland said the direct support of the country’s Government in scaling up Housing First had been critical.

The Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto promised to expand Housing First in England and communities secretary Michael Gove has indicated his support for the programme.

But policy manager at homelessness charity Crisis, Jasmine Basran, said: ‘We’re not really seeing that translate into action.

‘This is a really critical moment for tackling rough sleeping. Now is the time [for the Government] to make a commitment on Housing First. This is not the time to drag your feet.

‘Housing First is central to reaching that 2024 target. I don’t think the Government will meet that target without it. It’s very clear that if the Government wants to end rough sleeping this needs to be part of it.’

Natalie Heritage, an associate with the LGiU think-tank, added: ‘Housing First is definitely really important. It helps build those bridges of trust with people who don’t tend to engage with services.’

However, Ms Heritage warned residents’ opposition to Housing First schemes in their area sometimes made things difficult.

She argued it was up to local authorities and councillors to win hearts and minds, and take forward the idea.

‘It’s definitely more up to local government to implement,’ she added.

Proponents of Housing First are still not giving up on more funding coming from the Government.

But asked about whether more funding for Housing First would be arriving, Mr Hughes vaguely talked about the commitment in last year’s Spending Review to spend more than £2bn of funding to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the next three years.

Some £28m has been provided for three sub-regional Housing First pilots, including the one in Greater Manchester.

But despite the Government’s public commitment to Housing First, the detail of how much funding it will receive is still to be determined.

Let’s hope that when the funding does come there is still time to meet that 2024 target.

Refugee crisis adds to homelessness fears

Councils are braced for growing homelessness sparked by the Ukraine crisis after local authorities were forced to put some arriving families in emergency accommodation.

Early snapshot figures provided by the Local Government Association have shown that 144 Ukrainian refugees have already presented as homeless to 57 councils in England, after a number of sponsor relationships broke down.

Regional leaders have called for urgent clarity on the role of local authorities when sponsorships break down to avoid pressure on homelessness teams.

Conservative former local government minister Sir Bob Neill has also warned that some refugees could be made homeless if accommodation or criminal record checks fail after they have already arrived in the UK.

He called for systems to be put in place so that refugees could be ‘quickly re-matched rather than made homeless’ in such situations.

While the scale of the potential problem might be hard to predict at the moment there will undoubtedly be more Ukrainian refugees who end up homeless than the numbers so far recorded.

And it will be local authorities that will, of course, have to pick up the tab after refugees minister Lord Harrington confirmed councils will be responsible for funding this from their own budgets.

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Politics Housing Homelessness Refugees Rough sleeping
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