Homeful – our hopes for homes in the future

2020 was a year unlike any other in recent memory. Jo Richardson says that the social effects of a decade of austerity measures and the economic concerns about the fallout of Brexit created a heightened sense of precarity for those already just hanging on

When the Covid-19 pandemic started to impact the UK in March 2020, the resulting lockdowns and restrictions snapped the slender threads to jobs and housing for many. But 2020 was also a year of adaptive practice, collaborative working, learning and sharing ideas.

We saw this with remarkable effect through the ‘Everyone In’ initiative to offer emergency accommodation to anyone sleeping on the streets. Government figures for 2020 show a significant reduction in the numbers of homeless people sleeping on the street, as a result. Homeless Link reported that the number of households assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness (62,250) fell by 9.2 per cent compared to the previous year, but the number of households living in temporary accommodation (95,370) rose by eight per cent.

Covid-19 laid bare the extreme health inequalities for people experiencing homelessness in the UK and elsewhere. Not only do people who are homeless have worse health than others, but particularly those experiencing street homelessness have severely limited access to basic hygiene facilities and healthcare services, compounding existing health problems.

Prior to the vaccination programmes, the strongest protection against Covid-19 was safe, secure, affordable and clean accommodation, and it remains an important defence against disease, as well as helping to support physical and mental wellbeing.

We do not want to see the achievements of 2020 reversed, and yet there are widespread concerns about the ending of ‘Everyone In’ and the harsh impacts of ending the uplift to Universal Credit.

As a society, we should instead seek to embed the gains made by focusing on providing longer term solutions for individuals and families stuck in temporary accommodation; as well as continuing with prevention work in the housing sector. This will require insight and leadership from central government in terms of longer-term resourcing for properly affordable housing for rent. Local authorities, housing associations and key partners have demonstrated their agility in responding to the emergency of bringing people in from the streets during the pandemic, temporary solutions were found with the backing and financial support from central government.  

When we imagine a vision of strong and intelligent leadership now, we see a government which stands firmly behind a commitment to ‘level-up’ and demonstrates this through its actions – resourcing providers of safe, secure and affordable housing to build the rented homes needed, and recognising the need to uphold levels of universal credit to ensure citizens do not fall further into poverty.

To truly understand how we move to a situation where housing is seen as a home, and not as a temporary space, we must look beyond the emergency response to Covid-19. Key housing challenges which lie at the roots of the homelessness crisis have not gone away – the shortage of affordable housing supply, inadequate Local Housing Allowance rates and over-reliance on temporary accommodation. While significant injections of funding from central government have produced results in the past, short-term funding will always lead to short-term solutions. There is another way – a strategic, longer-term, housing-led approach to resolve and prevent homelessness.

A housing-led approach provides people experiencing (or at risk of experiencing) homelessness with stable, appropriate accommodation and any necessary support as quickly as possible. This approach (sometimes called ‘rapid rehousing,’ particularly in Scotland and Wales) turns the traditional response on its head by removing the conditionality attached to accessing a home.  

For people at risk of becoming homeless, a housing-led approach means housing providers and support agencies doing preventative work to bring in the necessary support and advice to help maintain their current home. Any system of support must be broad and deep enough to respond to the many interconnected issues that can sometimes lead to homelessness – such as family breakdown, early-life trauma, mental ill health, substance misuse and repeated contact with criminal justice systems. A truly housing-led system is one that can quickly offer stable accommodation and support, no matter how complex an individual’s personal situation.

Homelessness is a scourge on a modern wealthy country like the UK. The most visible pinnacle is rough sleeping – but there are many more people who are experiencing ‘hidden homelessness’, living in unsafe, insecure, unaffordable or short-term accommodation. The social housing sector already does much to provide homes and support for people.

But we can and should do more, to take both a housing-led response to resolve homelessness, and a support-led approach to prevent it. There is much to learn from the Housing First model, but this project looks further than that to include the variety of housing-led initiatives and the programmes designed by social housing providers to prevent homelessness.

The Chartered Institute of Housing’s Homeful action research campaign seeks to explore housing-led approaches to resolving and preventing homelessness – it provides an opportunity for housing providers to come together across the sector to share ideas about what we can do – what we will do.

Homeful is a blend of the words ‘home’ and ‘hopeful’, it is about what can and will be done to end all forms of homelessness for the future.

There are two key aims at the heart of the Homeful action research campaign. Firstly, understanding how we can resolve homelessness by providing affordable, stable housing, along with the necessary wrap-around, non-conditional support that each person requires. Secondly, considering how we can prevent homelessness by bringing support and advice to each person to help them sustain their tenancy, while leveraging the expertise and professional standards of the social housing sector to work with multiple agencies to help keep people in their home.

The most effective housing-led approach of all is one which supports people in the home they already have and enables them to avoid reaching a crisis point by accessing the necessary services. Poverty and deprivation are long-standing drivers of housing inequality and homelessness, requiring agile and supportive responses from local authorities and housing providers.  There are a number of examples of good preventative practice in the social housing sector and the Homeful campaign will draw key lessons from these to share.

The Homeful campaign seeks to build on the successes of the pandemic response by engaging with housing and other agencies to collate and share evidence and support for housing-led solutions to homelessness and rough sleeping.

The action research campaign begins in Autumn 2021 and concludes by December 2022. Its goal is to include as many housing providers, homeless organisations, local authorities, partner agencies, charities, service users and people who have experienced homelessness across the UK as possible. Imagine the resource of practical examples, enhanced networks and connections to share and learn we can create if we bring our heads together.  

If you’re interested in contributing to the Homeful Chartered Institute of Housing campaign, please visit www.cih.org/homeful to read the campaign launch report, and email homeful@dmu.ac.uk if you have information, good practice examples or ideas you’d like to share. This campaign specifically seeks to demonstrate what social housing providers are doing and can do, and it will have the voice of lived experience at its heart.

There is also a fundraising element to the campaign which individuals and organisations can join in. The fundraising is in aid of End Youth Homelessness – a UK wide movement of local charities working with young people experiencing homelessness.  Please visit www.justgiving.com/campaign/homeful for further information and for the opportunity to make a donation, or create a linked fundraising page, if you wish.  

Jo Richardson is President of the Chartered Institute of Housing and Professor of Housing and Social Inclusion at De Montfort University.
You can follow her on twitter @socialhousing

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