Today, staff, clients and volunteers from The Connection met the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to persuade them to help us end homelessness.
You can read about the visit here. We also shared with them our Five Policy Changes That Would Radically Combat Homelessness. In this blog, our Chief Executive Pam Orchard explains what our Five Changes are, and why they’re so important…
From the top 5 new year’s resolutions to the 10 most popular places to live in the UK, everyone loves a list! To this end, The Connection has created a list about combatting homelessness and, like all conscientious journalists, we did our research.
Over the past six months, we’ve conducted an organisation-wide conversation with the people who come to The Connection and the practitioners who deliver our services. We asked them to talk about the barriers they face in supporting people away from homelessness. In the conversation, we were particularly interested in those things which affect the most people, in the biggest ways and, if overcome, would make the most significant difference. The responses were clear and powerful.
1. Increase the availability of quality accommodation with more support for people to access and sustain tenancies
First is the need to increase the availability of quality accommodation. I know, it’s pretty obvious. Anyone who rents pretty much anywhere in the country, but especially in London, will have experienced this. It’s a real challenge to find somewhere which is decent, affordable, with a deposit you can cover and has the right transport links so that you can get to work.
And what do you do if you’ve had a bad day, a bad week or a bad year? What happens if you are ill? What do you do if your landlord turns out to be unwilling to fix the boiler, or brings your tenancy agreement to an end? Time and time again our conversation brought up the issue of having good, skilled support, particularly shortly after moving into a new place. Otherwise, who do you turn to for help when things go wrong?
2. Improve access to mental health and addiction services to tackle the underlying causes of homelessness
Second is the fact that homelessness is rarely just about accommodation. Many people who are homeless have mental health and/ or addiction problems, and overcoming them can be a totally overwhelming process.
We all accept that life has its ups and downs. However, for some people, it’s only ever really felt like downs. Then it becomes difficult to resist the temptation to drink or take drugs to escape from every single day. Then the drink and drugs become part of the daily routine, then they take over and that’s when homes get lost.
If you’ve ever struggled during dry January, or given up coffee for lent, that will give you a small insight into the power of addiction.
Overcoming both mental health and addiction issues can require high quality, regular professional help from clinicians and therapists. It means attending regular appointments in specific locations and speaking to strangers about very personal issues. This can be almost impossible when you are struggling to even know what day and time it is.
3. Improve the administration of benefits so it does not hinder people’s ability to avoid or escape homelessness
It will come as no surprise that our third priority is all about the benefits system and Universal Credit. There’s been an awful lot in the media about this over the last year. Administrative delays are tricky when you don’t have a home address or are waiting for housing benefit payments to be made so that you can pay rent before you are evicted. The online applications process is a challenge if you don’t have regular access to a computer, or if you don’t have great IT skills, or if you can’t actually read.
4. Make benefit levels, wages and the reliability of working hours sufficient for people to afford rent, along with more affordable rent levels
The fourth point brings us to the impact of a job on housing.
We are seeing a rise in the number of homeless people who are in work. Initially that seems like a great thing. However, what it means in practice is that more and more people are working but can’t afford to live anywhere. It also reflects the stark reality that people are choosing to be homeless and save money because that’s preferable to living in the kind of housing they could afford. How bad and expensive must housing be that you make that choice?
Zero hours contracts suit some people well, but others experience this as a significant barrier to accessing housing. How can you persuade a landlord that you can be a reliable tenant, when you can’t prove that you have regular guaranteed earnings?
5. Reform reconnection and resettlement through a national framework to represent viable options for people to escape homelessness
Our fifth area reflects a complex, bureaucratic minefield for anyone working in or experiencing homelessness. Local authorities have responsibilities for rough sleepers as part of our welfare state. However, they must interpret this in the context of whether or not someone can demonstrate a ‘local connection’ to their area. Relatively simple you’d think – but sadly not always. Many homeless people move from place to place and don’t have any ID. That makes it really tricky to prove where they are ‘from’. Have you ever lost your passport in another country?
Temporary accommodation is expensive and local authorities need to ration their access to it. One of the ways to do this is to refuse a local connection where it is not immediately obvious. The response is either for someone to continue to be homeless, or to see the evolution of a resource-intensive industry of housing advice workers advocating for clients who need to be housed. We need to step away from this bureaucracy and find a better way to enable both statutory and non-statutory agencies to get people into accommodation.
We have a system which most of us know is broken and there is a huge interest in changing it. Creating a response will require some national co-ordination. Let us know the date, time and venue for the meeting where we can start to discuss this and we’re there. In fact we might just send the invitation ourselves.
We know that our list covers a wide range of policies, systems and organisations. However, we also know from sharing early drafts of these priorities, that there is a lot of consensus about what needs to change. The government know this too, and today released their spending commitments to tackle homelessness alongside the annual rough sleeping figures.
The Connection has its name because we are a first port of call for people who are excluded, isolated and vulnerable.
We are also called The Connection because we know that recovery from homelessness is not as a result of the interventions of one agency alone. We believe in the power of working together with our clients and with our agency partners.
By sharing experiences and views on what needs to change, we hope you will join with us and get behind the collective efforts to overcome homelessness in London and the UK. Please share our Five Changes with family, friends and anyone who cares about homelessness on our website, or on social media using #connectionfivechanges.
If you’d like to keep updated on our progress, please sign up to our e-newsletter on the right hand side of this page.