How common is homelessness? I'm sure you've all seen the reports of rising numbers of homeless households and rough sleepers. But what's behind the headlines?
Homeless Link recently commissioned a poll which showed that almost a third (32%) of people have experienced homelessness or know someone who has. It seems, then, that homelessness is more common than many may think.
We also discovered that eight out of 10 people believe that councils should do more to help those who are homeless and seven out of 10 believe that investment in tackling the problem is a good use of public money.
Unfortunately, increase in demand is currently contrasted by reductions in the help available.
Our survey of homelessness services showed that almost half reported cuts to their funding last year, by an average of 17%. This has had a serious impact on the sector's ability to cope with rising demand for help, with 133 projects closing, 4,000 fewer bed spaces and a 16% reduction in full-time staff numbers since 2010.
This has affected our communities too. More than half of services that saw their funding reduced reported subsequent increases in rough sleeping, anti-social behaviour and street drinking in the local area.
With clear public backing and rising demand for help, why is investment going in the opposite direction?
Local authorities throughout England face increasing financial strain and are being forced to make extremely tough funding decisions. With reducing budgets and pressures from adult social care and other big spending departments, housing-related support is often seen as an easy cut to make as it carries no statutory duty.
Since the removal of the ring-fence around the Supporting People programme - specific funding for housing-related homelessness services - local authorities have complete discretion over how funding is allocated. This has led to a postcode lottery, with councils making cuts of up to 80% to housing-related support in some areas.
In the face of these pressures, we as a sector need to be making the case for investment now more than ever. Homelessness services change the lives of individuals, helping them on the road to getting their lives back on track, but also deliver significant social and economic returns.
Being homeless is bad for you physically and mentally and is likely to lead to a number of problems that are tough to overcome, such as crime, poor health and long-term unemployment. For example, think of the number of times you visit a doctor, attend A&E or spend time in hospital in a year - that costs the NHS around £235. Now imagine you don't have a home; your medical needs are likely to cost up to eight times as much.
Homelessness services help more than 40,000 people each year to take steps towards leaving these problems behind, but budget cuts are putting the future of these projects in serious danger. Can we really afford to not help?
We need to argue that an investment in helping someone who is homeless today to realise their potential tomorrow is one worth making. We need to highlight what society will lose if this does not happen.
With that in mind we have launched the Pay it Forward campaign to demonstrate the value of homelessness services to councillors across the country as they begin to make these difficult financial decisions.
Call on your councillor to invest in services that will ensure all people are given the chance to pay it forward as they move out of homelessness and into independence. Join the campaign at www.homeless.org.uk/PIF.
Read our full report here.
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