'Positive steps towards solving 'unacceptable' rough sleeping issue.'
A new action plan on rough sleeping and the release of Housing First guidance by the Welsh Assembly are positive steps on the way to solving the growing rough sleeping problem in Wales, says Matt Kennedy.
Having grown up in the South Wales valleys, visiting Cardiff with friends and family regularly, the sad and unacceptable fact is rough sleeping has become a common feature of wandering through the city centre at any time of day, which is no doubt a similar scenario in other large UK cities.
But it’s fair to say that in recent year and months the situation is visibly getting worse. Housing (Wales) Act 2014 introduced a new approach to addressing and mitigating homelessness in Wales that has been largely seen as a success in comparison to the previous system in operation.
The new measures, which have assistance for all at its heart ensure that everyone threatened with homelessness can gain some form of support. We strongly welcomed the new provisions and are encouraged by the results they are producing in terms of preventing homelessness.
Despite this more needs to be done to counter some of the current issues experience in operating the new approach – theses issues include:
- The recording of “non-cooperation” and how we ensure reasons behind this are well understood and monitored consistently
- Ensuring Local Authorities have enough capacity and resources available to find person-centred solutions – at present a large proportion of resources is spent on financial barriers (i.e deposits) to ensure someone can move if threatened with homelessness, rather than mediation and sustaining the current tenancy.
- Capacity with Local Authorities to meet the increasing demand for homelessness services
The latest data from 2017 indicates that local authorities estimated that 345 people were sleeping rough across Wales in the two weeks between 16 and 29 October 2017. This is an increase of 10 per cent (32 people) compared with the exercise carried out in October 2016. Local authorities reported 188 individuals observed sleeping rough across Wales between 10pm on the 9th and 5am on 10th November 2017.
This was an increase of a third (47 persons) on the previous year. Local authorities reported 233 emergency bed spaces across Wales. Of these, 42 (18 per cent) were unoccupied and available on the night of the snapshot count. In ten local authorities reporting rough sleepers on the night of the count there were no unoccupied, available emergency bed spaces.
The figures should rightly cause concern at the level of increased observed after a 12-month period.
The homelessness monitor in Wales produced by crisis highlighted a number of reasons for the increase including:
- Better data and resources to capture data (in 2016 more resources were available to monitor known rough sleeping locations)
- The impact of welfare reform
- The removal of priority need for ex-offenders
- An increase in the amount of rough sleepers moving from rural areas
- Increase in European Economic Area Nationals ineligible for mainstream welfare benefits
The Minister for Housing and Regeneration Rebecca Evans announced in a statement on Tuesday that the Welsh Government has put together a rough sleeping action plan and produced Housing First guidance. Both of which are positive steps in the right direction.
But we know that the transition to the new approach to homelessness has been difficult and the implementation needs refinement to increase the consistency in the approach. Coupled with the uncertainty about the funding arrangement for Supporting People services going forward there’s more than enough challenge underpinning what is a welcome move at rolling-out the kind of services that will meet the needs of rough sleepers in Wales.
Matt Kennedy is policy and public affairs manager at CIH Cymru.