THE BLOG
28/02/2018 10:39 GMT | Updated 28/02/2018 10:39 GMT

Rough Sleeping Is More Than A Homelessness Problem

Homelessness is an incredibly complex issue and driven by a number of causes. Yet building more homes won’t be enough to tackle rough sleeping

It is often said that politicians should never develop kneejerk policy in response to a tragedy. Yet we have all recently seen a tragedy right on the doorstep of Parliament. A fortnight ago, a man passed away whilst sleeping rough in Westminster tube station. There were news reports following this news which exposed his background – let me clear, the loss of life is always a tragedy and his past should not affect our desire to help others.  

Further out in my county of Essex, we also saw another rough sleeper pass away last week in Chelmsford as the temperature fell. This just isn’t good enough and it is time to grasp the nettle. 

Homelessness is a complex issue and there is no single underlying cause. Access to housing will undoubtedly play a part and Government action to build more affordable housing will make a big difference, yet we must also make sure that changes coming in the Homelessness Reduction Act are implemented fully and that local authorities are given the resources they need to make it a success.

However, those sleeping rough on our streets are some of the most vulnerable in our society and have some of the most difficult support needs. The most recent CHAIN report for 2016-17 found that, of those rough sleepers they spoke to, 47% had mental health support needs, 44% had alcohol support needs and 35% had drug support needs. 

This underlines the problem which policymakers face when trying to tackle this problem: rough sleeping isn’t simply a homelessness problem and can’t be treated as such.

All too often we read stories of individuals who have been helped off the streets and into temporary accommodation, but don’t get the support needed to address the root causes of their initial homelessness and so unfortunately end up back where they started. 

Addiction can also limit their ability to enter emergency accommodation. From my own experience, I have often heard from those sleeping rough that they cannot stay in their local night shelter or hostel as they have alcohol or drug problems. 

This is why the Government’s announcement of three Housing First pilots in the Autumn 2017 Budget is so important. We need to help vulnerable people off the streets and into stable accommodation so that we can help them with their underlying support needs.

Yet pilots are not enough. The evidence from the rest of the world is that this works. An evaluation of these programmes operating in the UK which was undertaken by the University of York and the Centre for Housing Policy found that this strategy is broadly successful

Of the service users completing outcome forms, 52% reported ‘bad or very bad’ mental health a year before entering into Housing First. When asked about their current mental health, this number fell to 18% - a substantial drop. Even in terms of general health, 60% of service users reported ‘bad or very bad’ general health a year before entering into Housing First. Following working with one of the programmes, this number fell to 28%.

By being bold and being radical, this can be the Government that eliminates rough sleeping once and for all.

 

More than that, it is frankly common sense. How do you provide the support services needed to help rough sleepers with their mental health or drug (including alcohol) problems when they are under an extraordinary amount of physical strain from living on the streets and support workers never know where to find them the next day? 

Anyone who has met Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government knows how determined he is to tackle this issue and committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022, and eliminating it by 2027.

I want him to be allowed to be bold. If this was the first time such a project had ever been undertaken, I would understand the hesitance in moving faster; the desire to evaluate how these pilots work.

But they already exist in the UK, and are in use across the world. We should be implementing Housing First across the country as a priority. At the very least, let us have a timetable for the full rollout of Housing First programmes across England. Most importantly, we must ensure they are fully linked up with local support services who are given the funding they need to help those sleeping rough with their mental health problems or addictions.

This will of course require money. The study by University of York and the Centre for Housing Policy found that Housing First programmes cost between £26 and £40 an hour. Yet the potential savings are estimated as high as £15,000 per person per year if you include reductions in use across the NHS and our police and courts. These are clearly worth the initial cost.

The issue of rough sleeping isn’t going to go away, yet more than that we have a moral duty to help those sleeping on our streets. It is time for us to be bold. 

Homelessness is an incredibly complex issue and driven by a number of causes. Yet building more homes won’t be enough to tackle rough sleeping - we need to stop thinking of it as solely a homelessness problem. 

By rolling out Housing First programmes, linking them up with support services and giving them the funding they need, we have the opportunity to transform the lives of rough sleepers.

By ensuring that they get the help needed to address the root cause of their homelessness, we can not only get rough sleepers into accommodation, but keep them there

By being bold and being radical, this can be the Government that eliminates rough sleeping once and for all.

Will Quince is the Conservative MP for Colchester