'Tackling homelessness about so much more than just building homes.'
Our response to the homelessness crisis must be to find a way to help the person, not just their satisfy their housing need, says Priya Thethi.
Crisis recently released a new report showing that around one third of single homeless people have no need of tailored support to access or sustain a home. For these people - numbering around 75,000 each year - the primary barrier to ending their homelessness is simply a lack of affordable housing.
These sobering findings are reinforced by some analysis of statutory homelessness trends: the end of an assured shorthold tenancy now causes 31% of statutory homelessness cases - a threefold increase since 2009/10. The key reasons for this, as identified by the 2017 homelessness monitor, are welfare reform, and the increasing unaffordability of housing.
With that in mind, solutions to our housing crisis - particularly the crisis around housing affordability - have taken centre stage even at some homelessness-focused events. At a Crisis event on place-making the expert panel discussed ways to overcome barriers to house building, many of which chimed with CIH’s own recommendations - a stronger focus on homes for social rent; certainty around the social housing rent settlement; the need for housing associations to become active partners; and more freedom for local authorities to build.
However, as a sector we’d be remiss to not look beyond housing, towards support. When politicians say that “homelessness is hugely complex”, they are, in a sense, correct: homelessness is a culmination of many different factors, some of which accumulate over a lifetime. In fact, the single biggest predictor of adult homelessness is childhood poverty.
So how can we address homelessness in a way that centres on a person, rather than just a person in housing need?
We were lucky enough to hear some first-hand accounts from the residents of Caritas Anchor House, a charity which, from one of the most deprived boroughs in the UK, provides not just housing, but holistic, person-centred support to hundreds of people each year. For the residents of Caritas, housing is a stable foundation from which they can rebuild their lives.
If solutions to homelessness aren’t housing-exclusive, they can be housing-led.
One approach could see an offer of four distinct streams of provision - all with housing at their core - based on a person’s support needs. Housing First, which combines an unconditional offer of settled housing with intensive, wrap-around support, would be one such stream, aimed at people with the most complex needs. At the other end of the spectrum would be a stream aimed at people with no support needs, which simply enables access to affordable housing.
In CIH’s recent report, Building Bridges, we set out an innovative way to enact this solution: radically reframing housing registers so that local authorities can use them to match people to the full range of housing solutions, ranging from housing with support, to general needs social housing, to shared ownership and privately rented housing.
Here, people can be efficiently directed towards the type of housing they truly need - and the kind of support they need to make sure they can sustain a healthy, happy home.
At a recent workshop hosted by Poplar Harca, people working in every part of the homelessness sector discussed how the road towards settled housing is so often too long. However, if we - councils, housing professionals, the voluntary sector - worked in partnership, we could ensure that everyone who needs a home can access one, no matter what help they might need to get there. After all, in the words of John Bird, “tackling homelessness is about so much more than building new homes”.
Priya Thethi is policy and practice officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing.