At the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020, a government scheme called “Everyone In” succeeded in getting almost every single person sleeping rough in Britain off the streets and into some form of accommodation..Could ‘Housing First’ end homelessness? – Catholic Herald
At the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020, a government scheme called “Everyone In” succeeded in getting almost every single person sleeping rough in Britain off the streets and into some form of accommodation. £3.2 million-worth of emergency investment was given to local authorities at the time to keep people off the streets while Covid raged, and a temporary ban on evictions came into place. It was a massive undertaking which helped around 37,000 vulnerable people, and it is considered to have been one of Boris Johnson’s government’s success stories. When Johnson came into power in 2019, one of his pledges was to eradicate rough sleeping by 2024.
Unfortunately, there was no follow-up after Covid restrictions eased, and many of these vulnerable people are now back on the streets again, back to square one. On any one night, roughly 4,500 people can be expected to be sleeping on the streets in England, a number which amounts to between 28,000 and 30,000 who experience rough sleeping in any one year. There are also the 120,000 homeless, who are sofa surfing, sleeping in their cars or in short-term B&B lets. While there are many factors which contribute to people ending up on the streets, such as substance addiction and domestic abuse, more and more people are in this position simply because they cannot afford to pay their rents.
“There’s work out there but it’s short-term and it’s low paid because companies are hedging their bets, and rents are extortionate,” explains George O’Neill, CEO of the Cardinal Hume Centre, which helps improve living conditions for people in the Westminster area of London. “It’s also really complicated managing a benefit claim and working. The sunny uplands are if we can get them [homeless people] into social housing, but it is not possible for most of the people because what’s available is mostly private rented which is just extortionate. They need to be helped a lot.”
Chris Wood, assistant director of research, policy and public affairs at Shelter, agrees: “One of the biggest causes of the housing emergency is that private rents are so high now that one in five renters are cutting back on food just to pay the rent,” he explains. “100,000 people are in arrears or facing eviction post-pandemic, and we are worried more people are about to become homeless.” The end of the furlough scheme is only going to compound this.
But there is a glimmer of light amid this crisis which many campaigners and charities talk excitedly about – and after the success of Everyone In, which showed a huge amount of political will, and the 2024 deadline, the volume is rising among the optimists. The solution is thought by some to be a scheme called “Housing First”, which was introduced to Britain in 2017 by former MP and homelessness campaigner Brooks Newmark, who came across it in parts of the US and in Finland and Denmark while doing research on homelessness for the Centre for Social Justice. He found the scheme to have been remarkably successful and believed it should be replicated in Britain.
Housing First, which prioritises getting the homeless person a home of his or her own before any further action is taken to help them, was created in the 1990s in New York by psychiatrist Dr Sam Tsemberis, who was disillusioned finding the men and women he was treating in his clinic sleeping on the streets outside the hospital. When asked, his patients said unequivocally that their recoveries would be so much easier if they had somewhere to live. So he came up with the Housing First model which first gives the vulnerable person a home of their own, and then wraps an intensive support package around them, including mental health support, occupational therapy and employment training, which remains in place for as long as the person requires it.
The model also requires that housing is not lumped together but scattered so that the vulnerable person stands a better chance of reintegrating into society and living a normal life, rather than being held back by the proximity of those with similar problems.
The charity Crisis is the most vocal proponent of the scheme, which has so far, since 2017, been piloted in Liverpool, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, as well as parts of Scotland. The charity is calling on the government to build more social housing. “Housing First has completely unlocked a dichotomy in the homelessness sector,” explains Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis. The current way we deal with homelessness – help first, home second, if ever – says Downie, makes the cycle of homelessness impossible to break.
Brooks Newmark agrees: “Certainly following the 2017 report and the 2020 CSJ report following the three pilots, Housing First will either eradicate rough sleeping or reduce it by over 80 per cent. There is a moral imperative – if we are the fifth richest country in the world, we should not have people sleeping on the streets.”
The moral imperative may be there, but can we as a country afford to build enough social housing for the tens of thousands of people who need it, and then pay for them to live in it? Of course we can, says Newmark who in 2017 persuaded the then-chancellor Philip Hammond to pilot Housing First in England.
If the state managed to afford £2 trillion to bail out the banks in 2008, and the billions spent during the pandemic, it can afford to sort out the homelessness crisis, says Newmark. “It’s about political will. If Boris wants to level up society, he needs to start at the bottom – that’s rough sleepers and the homeless. Levelling up is not a north-south divide, it’s an economic divide.”
Funds set aside by the government to end homelessness amounts to £650 million. According to Downie, £200 million would take out almost all of the rough sleeping population, and the calculation is that for every pound spent on the scheme, the government will eventually get £1.50 back. “Through Housing First, people’s journey out of homelessness is quicker and it is cheaper,” Downie explains.
Which leads us on to the new minister of levelling up and housing, Michael Gove, who has a track record of overhauling systems and bringing in radical change. Across the homelessness sector, people are excited by Gove’s appointment, and they are waiting to see what he will do. The agenda has been presented to him already by the Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel. They think the successful rollout of Housing First across the country is the kind of legacy that Gove is gearing up for and they are putting pressure on him to take it on. “Michael Gove is known as someone who is willing to take on big issues,” says Downie. “We are excited about working with someone who has ministerial clout across government, because homelessness will only be resolved if the housing department works with the DWP, MoJ, Health and other departments. It needs a big hitter in government. We hope he’ll tackle it head-on.”