Five things I learned from CIH's tackling homelessness event
CIH policy and practice research officer Dr Yoric Irving-Clarke reflects on the top five lessons he took away from our conference on tackling homelessness and meeting housing need.
1. If we are going to solve homelessness, we need to use all the evidence
In the opening address CIH chief executive Terrie Alafat CBE and Jon Sparkes of Crisis asked: “What does ending homelessness look like in practice?” Using Crisis’ own recent report and examples of the Scottish government’s plan, Mr Sparkes challenged the sector to answer this question.. This doesn’t mean no-one will ever lose their home again, but that our policy responses must prevent rough sleeping and provide suitable accommodation and support.
Dr Ligia Teixera (Centre for Homelessness Impact) showcased the centre’s evidence toolkit. This comprises an international review of evidence across a range of interventions and “gap maps” of where we are currently short of robust evidence. She set out a clear plan to improve the effectiveness of the sector, by gathering evidence, producing actionable guidance, designing solutions, testing them in different contexts – then returning to the evidence gathering stage.
2. The sector has a vital role to play in tackling domestic abuse
CIH President Jim Strang set out the reasons why he continues Alison Inman’s campaign in support of Women’s Aid and the wider domestic abuse agenda. Guddy Burnet (Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance) highlighted that social landlords have often treated domestic abuse as anti-social behaviour and this has led to it not being dealt with effectively. Social landlords are in unique position to spot the signs of abuse. Research by Safe Lives and Gentoo shows that patterns of repairs and rent arrears can both be indicators of potential abuse.
3. While the situation is far from perfect, there is good practice out there that is worth looking at, and still some problems to solve
The National Practitioner Support Service (NPSS) presented its work to implement the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) with local authorities. The team found a culture shift from an “investigative” to a “supportive” approach and, while the Act is welcome, implementation continues to be a learning curve. The smooth passing of adequate information to ensure referrals are successful and a lack of clarity on how the impact of the Act will be evaluated were flagged as sector concerns.
Oxford City Council presented its experiences of implementing the HRA. It has invested in a scheme to buy back council properties and let them at Local Housing Allowance rates and secured trailblazer funding spent upstream in health, social care and prisons to take the pressure off its housing options service – improving partnership working and joint understanding of problems.
4. The need to involve people with lived experience is vital
Jeremy Swain (chief executive of Thames Reach, seconded to the Ministry of Housing, Communites and Local Government) outlined the government’s aim to halve the number of rough sleepers by 2022 and some of the initiatives underway e.g. the Homelessness Reduction Act, homelessness task force, and Housing First pilots. He was clear on his expectation that the sector employs more people with lived experience of homelessness within their services.
Stan Burridge’s “expert by experience” workshop drew on his experience of services as a powerful backdrop for the session. Stan asked us to consider the challenges and advantages of fully involving people with lived experience. It became clear that the advantages were many and the challenges could mostly be mitigated by organisations taking a supportive approach and providing coaching and training.
5. Get on with it!
Going back to Terrie Alafat’s presentation from the start of day one, Terrie acknowledged that although policy makers have much to occupy them, there are a huge number of measures that practitioners can take now – and we should just be getting on with it!