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Homelessness

An individual is legally deemed homeless if they do not have accommodation or if they are currently occupying accommodation in which their continued residence would be unreasonable.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) is responsible for prescribing national policies on homelessness and instigating the governmental implementation of such policies.  See the drop down below for further information and statistics – ‘What is homelessness’        

Individuals often become homeless due to extreme personal difficulties, which may take the form of:

  • A troubled childhood.
  • Mental or physical illness.
  • Involvement in crime, which may have commenced at an early age.
  • Substance misuse.
  • Relationship breakdown.
  • Victimisation by violent crime.
  • Ejection from the home of a relative or friend.
  • Eviction from a rented property.
  • A prison sentence.

The drop down below outlines some further data – ‘Causes of homelessness’

In 2017, the government passed a new Homelessness Reduction Act, which came into effect in April 2018. This act was welcomed by charities such as Homeless Link, Crisis, and Shelter as a step towards the elimination of UK homelessness.  For further information on legislative changes relating to homelessness see the drop down below – ‘Government policies’

At present there are two main focuses regarding tackling homelessness: facing homelessness during the pandemic and eliminating rough sleeping.  The UK’s homeless population is especially vulnerable to the crippling effects of the Coronavirus pandemic and it is widely thought in the homeless sector we need to move to a prevention rather than correction attitude. You can read more about ‘Tackling homelessness’ in the drop down below. 

You can read more about ‘Responding to rough sleepers’ in the drop down below.

What is homelessness

The objectives of the MHCLG include the prevention of homelessness among those deemed to be at risk, and rapid intervention among those who are already subject to homelessness. The ministry also provides assistance to those who have been homeless over a long-term period, with the intention of facilitating their transition into stable accommodation.

The MHCLG distributes funding to local authorities to aid them in their legal duty of combatting homelessness, by offering advice and assistance to all households that have become homeless or are threatened by homelessness. Local authorities also have a responsibility to provide temporary accommodation to homeless households that are legally entitled to such provision (the “statutory homeless”).

Between July to September 2020, the MHCLG has reported that 37,170 households were initially assessed as homeless and entitled to a relief duty. A further 31,510 households were assessed as being threatened with homelessness and were therefore owed a prevention duty. Another disconcerting finding revealed that 49.9% of households entitled to a prevention or relief duty, had one or more support needs, the most prevalent being a history of mental health problems. [2]

In addition to statutory homelessness, the most common forms of homelessness include “rough sleeping”, “in temporary accommodation”, and “hidden homelessness”.

According to Homeless Link, 4,266 people were estimated to be sleeping rough in England during the autumn of 2019.[3] Although this statistic represents a decrease of 9% from the previous year, the number of rough sleepers has increased significantly, by 141% since 2010.[4] Furthermore, critics have said that the statistics provided by the MHCLG only record a “fraction of the true rough-sleeping population”.[5]

The number of homeless households in temporary accommodation (such as shelters, hostels, refugees, or private and social housing) had reached 98,300 by June 2020 – an increase of 14% since June 2019.  Quarterly reports since December 2011 have shown a constant rise in these figures.[6] The 98,300 households in temporary accommodation in June 2020 included 127,240 children.[7]

Furthermore, research by crisis shows that there were 71,400 families and individuals forced to “sofa-surf” at the end of 2019 who may not show up in official figures.[8]

* For a more detailed analysis of homelessness statistics, see the referenced links below.

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[1] Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, ‘Homelessness statistics’, GOV.UK, 27 February 2020 <https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/homelessness-statistics#statutory-homelessness>

[2] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/957573/Statutory_homelessness_release_Jul-Sep_2020_REVISED.pdf

[3] Homeless Link, ‘Rough sleeping – our analysis’, February 2020 <https://www.homeless.org.uk/facts/homelessness-in-numbers/rough-sleeping/rough-sleeping-our-analysis>

[4] Ibid.

[5] Patrick Greenfield, ‘Improve quality of rough-sleeping figures, says UK statistics chief’, The Guardian, 26 March 2019, <https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/mar/26/improve-quality-of-rough-sleeping-figures-says-uk-statistics-chief>

[6] https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn02110/

[7] Ibid.

[8] https://www.crisis.org.uk/ending-homelessness/homelessness-knowledge-hub/types-of-homelessness/it-was-like-a-nightmare-the-reality-of-sofa-surfing-in-britain-today/

Causes of homelessness

According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG), the most common reason for the loss of settlement is the unwillingness or inability of friends or family to continue to provide accommodation – 32.8% of households assessed as homeless or being threatened with homelessness [1].  Landlord evictions is another common cause for loss of home, though these have decreased since 2019, it is likely due to restrictions in place regarding evictions during the current pandemic [2].

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation recognised the increase in figures since 2010 and that we need to better understand people's experiences of both homelessness and rough sleeping. A round-up can be found in their report highlighting the prevalence of mental health issues, traumatic childhood experiences and suicide attempts amongst people accessing low-level homelessness support services.[3]

It must be noted that personal circumstances interact with broader, socio-economic factors, which are instrumental in determining the extent of homelessness in the UK. Examples of such factors include:

  • The increasing cost of private rented accommodation.
  • Housing shortages.
  • Unemployment
  • Poverty
  • Lack of education.
  • Problematic aspects of welfare policies (e.g. discrepancies between local housing allowance and rent, or delayed benefit payments).

A recent report from Shelter highlighted the magnitude of the issue; in 2019 Shelter’s emergency helpline received a call every 44 seconds, while the charity’s webchat service was used almost 26,000 times. The situation in London is particularly concerning; in Newham 1 in 24 people were homeless in 2019. [4] The predominance of homelessness in the capital may be largely attributed to the significant expense of private rented accommodation in the city.

Homeless Link’s Chief Executive, Rick Henderson, has stated that in order to reach the government’s designated zero sum goal (i.e. the elimination of homelessness) by 2027, there must be radical governmental effort aimed at resolving the structural causes of homelessness, including poverty, the “broken” national welfare system, and the supply and affordability of housing.  Henderson also emphasises the importance of governmental investment in services dealing with health and mental health, drugs and alcohol misuse, and domestic violence. According to the C.E.O, it is also essential that the government works to minimise the challenges facing our criminal justice system.[5]

The charity Crisis has also highlighted several other issues that are crucial to winning the battle against homelessness. These issues include the gap between the Local Housing Allowance and rent costs, unjust sanctions, and the current impossibility of having Universal Credit payments transferred directly to landlords (an option that may prove imperative in instances of individuals who do not feel sufficiently equipped to manage their own finances).[6]

 

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[1] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/957573/Statutory_homelessness_release_Jul-Sep_2020_REVISED.pdf

[2] Ibid.

[3] Theresa McDonagh, ‘Tackling homelessness and exclusion: Understanding complex lives’, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 12 September 2011 <https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/tackling-homelessness-and-exclusion-understanding-complex-lives>

[4] ‘280,000 people in England are homeless, with thousands more at risk’, Shelter, 18 December 2019 <https://england.shelter.org.uk/media/press_releases/articles/280,000_people_in_england_are_homeless,_with_thousands_more_at_risk>

[5] Rick Henderson, ‘We must tackle the structural causes of homelessness: rough sleeping figures for 2018 announced’, Homeless Link, 31 January 2019 <https://www.homeless.org.uk/connect/news/2019/jan/31/we-must-tackle-structural-causes-of-homelessness-rough-sleeping-figures-for>

[6] Rosie Downes, ‘The big issues for ending homelessness: what the Experts by Experience told us’, Crisis, 14 February 2018 <https://www.crisis.org.uk/about-us/the-crisis-blog/the-big-issues-for-ending-homelessness-what-the-experts-by-experience-told-us/>

 

Government policies

In 2017, the government passed a new Homelessness Reduction Act, which came into effect in April 2018.[1] This act was welcomed by charities such as Homeless Link, Crisis, and Shelter as a step towards the elimination of UK homelessness. The key changes introduced by the new legislation include:

  • Improvements in the quality of advice and information appertaining to homelessness.
  • Prolongation of the period during which an individual is defined as being “threatened with homelessness”.
  • An increase in the responsibility taken by local housing authorities with regard to tackling homelessness in their area.
  • The provision of personalised housing plans outlining the measures to be taken by individuals and housing authorities in order to secure accommodation.
  • The levelling of responsibility upon all public bodies, requiring them to refer those at risk of homelessness to housing authorities[2].

For further information on legislative changes relating to homelessness, please see: https://www.crisis.org.uk/media/238825/crisis_hra_guidance_1pp.pdf.

The leading UK homelessness charities expressed positive reactions to the introduction of this act, as compliance with the appointed measures is calculated to emphasise homelessness prevention and to introduce “a more person-centred approach” to the support of vulnerable people.[3]

The government also announced measures as part of their strategy to eliminate rough sleeping, with the aim of halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eradicating it entirely by 2027. The steps undertaken thus far include the formation of a new Rough Sleeping Team, a £30 million 2018-19 fund for local authorities with large numbers of rough sleepers, and the provision of £100,000 of funding to support frontline Rough Sleeping workers.[4]

On the 23rd of December 2019 the Prime Minister declared that £260 million would be set aside for local homelessness services, of which 300 councils across the country would receive a share with which to support the homeless in their area.[5] Reducing rough sleeping has become a cross-departmental priority for the government. This governmental prioritisation has been facilitated by the advocacy work of homelessness charities.

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[1] Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, GOV.UK, <Homelessness Reduction Act 2017>

[2] Overview of homelessness law and guidance, Shelter, <https://england.shelter.org.uk/legal/homelessness_applications/introduction_to_homelessness>

[3] Louise Weaver, ‘Homelessness Reduction Act should change ‘familiar story’ of homelessness data’, Homeless Link, 27 June 2018 <https://www.homeless.org.uk/connect/news/2018/jun/27/homelessness-reduction-act-should-change-familiar-story-of-homelessness>

[4]  ‘New government initiative to reduce rough sleeping’, GOV.UK, 30 March 2018, <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-government-initiative-to-reduce-rough-sleeping>

[5] ‘Prime minister pledges new action to eliminate homelessness and rough sleeping’, GOV.UK, 23 December 2019 <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-pledges-new-action-to-eliminate-homelessness-and-rough-sleeping>

Tackling homelessness

Facing Homelessness in A Time of Pandemic: Combatting COVID-19

The UK’s homeless population is especially vulnerable to the crippling effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Those living on the street are unable to adhere to the governmental stipulation to self-isolate, while closures of food banks, soup kitchens, public toilets, and day centres, have significantly increased the privation suffered by rough sleepers.

The first six recorded deaths of homeless people from Coronavirus have recently been announced by the newspaper the Observer. All the victims, who have died since March, were associated with London hostels. There are fears that fatalities will continue to rise, considering current conditions in the city’s hostels.[1]

The governmental endeavour to protect the homeless has caused local councils to move many rough sleepers out of emergency night shelter dormitories into hotels. However, it is estimated that up to 35,000 people across the UK remain in hostels. Many homeless people are desperate to get off the streets and into accommodation, to escape both the health risk posed by COVID-19, and the resulting lack of accessibility to essential supplies. However, the unprecedented demand upon hostels has led to an alarming degree of overcrowding.[2]

The initial findings of a survey undertaken by the UCL Collaborative Centre for Inclusion Health has shown that the fatality rate for a homeless person living in a London hostel is 25 times higher than that of an adult member of the public. At the time of the investigation, 38% of London hostels contained residents with suspected Coronavirus symptoms. 41% of affected residents were still sharing bathrooms with other residents, while 35% of the hostels with sick residents were continuing to make use of communal dining facilities. Since the announcement of these results, a minimum number of 17 additional residents have been admitted to hospital, demonstrating severe symptoms of Coronavirus.[3]

The model produced by UCL projects a perturbing deterioration in the current situation. In the absence of swift action, during the next 3 to 4 months it is predicted that up to 12,000 hospital admissions and 900 deaths will occur among the homeless population.[4]

On 26 March 2020, Rick Henderson, the CEO of Homeless Link, issued an emergency appeal to all London-based day centres to close immediately, to prevent the spread of Coronavirus to the most vulnerable members of society. Homeless Link has instead requested that all daycentre staff, and other skilled volunteers, sign up to the London Hotels rota, to assist with the management of the hotels that have been converted into accommodation for the homeless during the pandemic.[5]

To support the continued operations of DASH, in protecting Durham’s homeless during this national crisis, please consider donating.

Due to the critical demand created by the virus, the charity Shelter is in desperate need of extra funds to cover their software licences, in order that they can continue answering emergency calls.

To donate to Shelter’s emergency appeal, please visit: https://england.shelter.org.uk/donate.

Eliminating Rough Sleeping

Homeless charity Crisis outlines five key principles for tackling rough sleeping:

  • Recognising the diverse needs of rough sleepers.
  • Acting swiftly.
  • Actively reaching out to rough sleepers and providing them with accommodation.
  • Focusing on settled housing.
  • Adopting a person-centred approach that permits freedom of choice.

 

Crisis argues that a fundamental step towards eradicating homelessness is altering the attitudes held by the public. The charity specifically highlights the importance of challenging the stereotypes centred around homeless people, including the archetypal perception that homelessness is inevitable.

Another leading UK homelessness charity, Homeless Link, places focus upon the prevention of homelessness, arguing that instituting preventative measures is a more effective approach than waiting until people are already subject to homelessness before helping.

Homeless Link states that homelessness prevention requires a relationship between the charity and its service users, a holistic and flexible approach, collaboration between all relevant service providers, and well-trained staff. Homeless Link also calls upon the government to tackle the structural causes of homelessness by increasing the availability of affordable housing, reducing poverty, and diminishing the discrepancy between benefit levels and rents.

At DASH, we aim to provide our residents with the support they need to move into permanent accommodation, find secure employment and break the cycle of homelessness.

For further details, please consult:

The Crisis Rough Sleeping Review

The Crisis Report on How to End Homelessness in Great Britain

The Crisis Article on Reframing Homelessness

Homeless Link’s Case Studies on Preventing Homelessness

Homeless Link’s Article on Changing the “Familiar Story” of Homelessness

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[1] Tom Wall, ‘Fears of “catastrophic coronavirus outbreak” among homeless in hostels’, The Guardian, 19 April 2020 <https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/19/fears-of-catastrophic-coronavirus-outbreak-among-homeless-in-hostels>

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Rick Henderson, ‘Emergency appeal for help’, Homeless Link, 26 March 2020 <https://www.homeless.org.uk/connect/blogs/2020/mar/26/emergency-appeal-for-help>

Responding to rough sleepers

Facing Homelessness in A Time of Pandemic: Combatting COVID-19

  • The ongoing national struggle against the Coronavirus presents a grave threat to those living on the streets of the UK.
  • Food banks are struggling to cope with the unprecedented pressures placed on their services, as a result of the current lack of donations, rationing of supermarket produce and shortage of volunteers due to self-isolation.
  • Numerous food banks have already been forced to close, including the Islington and West Yorkshire food banks from the Trussell Trust network, the latter of which recently had its supplies stolen during a robbery.[1]
  • The UK government has recognised the significant health risk posed by remaining on the streets during the pandemic, and has accordingly declared that all those sleeping rough are “to be housed.”
  • In communications to councils nationwide, Housing Minister Luke Hall has stated that a “local coordination cell” will be formed in order to orchestrate the accommodation of rough sleepers.
  • Hall also announced that rough sleepers will be triaged into three groups; those exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, those who are subject to pre-existing health conditions but are not currently displaying symptoms of the virus, and those without virus symptoms or underlying health issues.
  • As far as possible, rough sleepers with “significant drug and alcohol needs” will be separated from those without such needs.[2]
  • Homeless charities have warned of the devastating human cost that will ensue if outbreaks occur in overcrowded shelters.[3]
  • In order to minimise this risk, the government has also declared its intention to prevent the congregation of rough sleepers in shelters and street encampments.
  • These designated emergency measures have been met with the approval of leading UK homeless charity Crisis.
  • However, there are profound concerns as to whether the £3.2m provided by the government will be sufficient to enable the undertaking of this vital endeavour.[4]

The extra strain placed upon homelessness charities in the face of the Coronavirus outbreak is endangering thousands of lives.

Due to the critical demand created by the virus, the charity Shelter is in desperate need of extra funds to cover their software licences, in order that they are able to continue answering emergency calls.

To donate to Shelter’s emergency appeal, please visit: https://england.shelter.org.uk/donate.

Rough Sleeping: The True State of the Case

  • The perception that there are no rough sleepers on the streets of County Durham is simply incorrect, as is the view that those who beg on the streets do so out of choice.
  • In 2019, DASH received 731 referrals from people who were homeless or at risk of homelessness. These referrals included 548 males and 183 females, 87 of which were of individuals sleeping rough within County Durham.
  • During 2019, DASH conducted 41 “positive move-ons”, i.e the movement of individuals on to destinations, such as privately owned rental accommodation or supported housing. These move-ons constituted a crucial step in the road to helping individuals rebuild their lives.
  • It is similarly inaccurate to accuse all rough sleepers of “aggressive begging”, or indeed any form of begging at all. Research conducted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation revealed that, although 80% of those who have experienced homelessness and complex needs have slept rough, only 30% have engaged in street begging.[5]
  • Many rough sleepers are subject to complex needs, which have often developed due to the physical and psychological damage caused by protracted periods of sleeping on the streets. Crisis emphasises the correlation between the length of time an individual spends sleeping rough and their likelihood of developing substance misuse problems and additional needs relating to their physical and mental health. The longer an individual spends living on the streets, the higher their probability of coming into contact with the criminal justice system.[6]
  • Rough sleepers are also more likely to become the victims of crime; over the past year a rough sleeper was almost 17 times more likely to have been the victim of violence than a member of the general public, while nearly 25% of women sleeping rough have been sexually assaulted.[7]
  • For those suffering from complex needs, getting off the streets is even more difficult, partially due to a lack of accessibility to the support services from which they require help. For example, an individual struggling with both drug or alcohol issues and an additional mental health problem may be denied assistance from substance misuse and mental health services, until they have dealt with one of the issues. Many mental health services do not conduct diagnoses on the street so mental health outreach programmes and health service referrals may fail to provide a rough sleeper with the assistance they need.[8]
  • Rough sleepers can receive the help they require if local authorities collaborate to recognise those at risk and remove them from the streets as swiftly as possible.
  • The No Second Night Out (NSNO) approach is employed by many authorities to place rough sleepers into accommodation.[9] (For further details, please consult: http://www.nosecondnightout.org.uk).
  • Removing rough sleepers from the street is not, in and of itself, a sufficiently useful approach, as it fails to solve the structural causes of homelessness, as outlined in the “Causes of Homelessness” and “Tackling Homelessness” sections on this website. However, giving money to rough sleepers is not necessarily the most beneficial course of action.[10]

 

More appropriate responses are:

  • Offering food, a hot drink, or a blanket.
  • Enquiring as to the current, specific needs of the rough sleeper.
  • Alerting StreetLink, a national organisation that will contact the relevant local authority.
  • Contacting Housing Solutions, Durham County Council’s organisation that aims to tackle local homelessness.
  • In cases when a rough sleeper is in serious distress, it may be more helpful to contact the police and/or an ambulance.
  • To support the fight against homelessness on a broader level, make a financial donation to national homelessness charities such as Shelter and Crisis, or a local charity such as DASH.

NB if the rough sleeper in question appears to be under the age of 18, homelessness charities such as StreetLink strongly urge calling the police immediately, rather than contacting a charity.

Housing Solutions Contact Details:

Telephone Number (Housing Advice Line) – 03000 268 000

Email Address:  housingsolutions@durham.gov.uk

Out of Hours Telephone Number – 01388 722 538

StreetLink:

Telephone Number – 0300 500 0914

Website – https://www.streetlink.org.uk

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[1] Patrick Butler, ‘Food banks ask UK supermarkets to set aside coronavirus supplies’, The Guardian, 21 March 2020 <https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/mar/21/food-banks-plead-with-uk-supermarkets-to-set-aside-supplies-amid-coronavirus-fallout>

[2] ‘Coronavirus: All rough sleepers in England “to  be housed”, BBC News, 27 March 2020 <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-52063939>

[3] Alexandra Topping, ‘Coronavirus: homeless face race against time to self-isolate’, The Guardian, 22 March 2020 <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/22/coronavirus-homeless-face-race-against-time-to-self-isolate>

[4] ‘Coronavirus: All rough sleepers in England “to  be housed”, BBC News, 27 March 2020 <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-52063939>

[5] ‘Tackling homelessness and exclusion: Understanding complex lives’, The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, September 2011 <https://www.homeless.org.uk/sites/default/files/site-attachments/Roundup_2715_Homelessness_aw.pdf>

[6] ‘Rough sleepers and complex needs’, Crisis <https://www.crisis.org.uk/ending-homelessness/rough-sleeping/rough-sleepers-and-complex-needs/>

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Rebecca Miles, ‘Don’t give money to rough sleepers, police say’, Hereford Times, 25 January 2019 <https://www.herefordtimes.com/news/17384541.dont-give-money-to-rough-sleepers-police-say/>