The £100m plan to end rough sleeping in England

Crisis point: The number of people sleeping rough across England on any given night.

Will we ever end rough sleeping? Amid rocketing levels of homelessness, the government has set out a wide-ranging strategy to eradicate the problem by 2027. Could it work?

Tonight, almost 5,000 people will sleep rough in alleys, doorways and park benches across England. More than 120,000 children will be in temporary accommodation, off the streets but facing an uncertain future.

And the numbers keep rising. Rough sleeping grew by 15% in the last year and by 169% since 2010. Salford housing official Paul Dennett blames a “precarious labour market and vicious cuts to benefits payments”.

Last year, the NAO concluded that a four-year freeze on housing benefits from 2016 has contributed to homelessness, as claimants struggle to afford private rents, which have gone up by three times as much as wages over eight years. Meanwhile, a boom in the gig economy means up to 10 million UK workers are not in secure employment.

As part of a strategy to eliminate rough sleeping by 2027, the government is putting £50 million towards homes for those who are ready to move on from hostels or refuges. A further £30 million will be spent on mental health treatment and countering addictions to street drugs like spice. Ministers will also review the Vagrancy Act, which makes it illegal to sleep rough or beg in England and Wales.

But Labour says the funding will “barely register” compared with government cuts to homeless services and welfare, while charities say the plans don’t go far enough.

Some experts say we should follow the example of Finland, which has “all but eradicated rough sleeping”. The country’s Housing First scheme provides people with permanent homes as soon as they become homeless, rather than relying on temporary accommodation, and directs them towards services.

“There is no quick fix to all life situations,” says Juha Kaakinen, who works on the scheme, but independent homes provide “a solid base” for individuals to start from. The UK government has taken note. It is investing £28 million in trials of Housing First across England.

Yesterday, a YouGov poll found 54% of people think homelessness will never be eradicated, compared with 28% who think it will.

Will we ever end rough sleeping?

Hard times

We can hope to, say some. The Housing First model in Finland has shown that it is possible to virtually eradicate rough sleeping. The government’s integrated plans are a step in the right direction, and with a greater emphasis on securing permanent homes for rough sleepers straight away and well-funded support services, we stand a real chance.

Unlikely, argue others. Each homeless individual has complex and unique reasons for their situation, so no blanket approach will fix every case. Besides, even if the latest strategy had some impact, rough sleeping is a symptom of England’s wider affordable housing crisis and no one seems to know how to begin solving that.

You Decide

  1. Will we ever end rough sleeping?
  2. Are society’s attitudes towards the homeless improving?

Activities

  1. Watch Scott’s story in Become An Expert. Write a paragraph on how the support he received from Crisis helped change his outlook on life.
  2. Research the common causes of homelessness and write three imaginary case studies of individuals who do not have anywhere to live.

Some People Say...

“It is fatal to look hungry. It makes people want to kick you.”

George Orwell

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The government’s strategy was launched yesterday by Housing Secretary James Brokenshire. He said: “It is simply unacceptable that people have to sleep on the streets and I am determined to make it a thing of the past.” As part of the plans, the government has increased house-building, with 217,000 homes built in the last year, but Brokenshire says the market is “broken” because the previous government failed to build.
What do we not know?
It remains to be seen how effective the government’s new strategy will be. We also do not know where half of the £100 million for the plan has come from. Brokenshire said half of the promised funding had already been committed to homelessness and rough sleeping, with the other half “reprioritised” from existing budgets in his department.

Word Watch

5,000
Experts recognise these figures may be inaccurate as it is hard to calculate precisely, but they are true of the overall growing trend of rough sleeping.
Temporary
Given to people who do not have a permanent home, usually hostels or refuges. Government figures show there are almost 790,000 families in temporary accommodation.
NAO
The National Audit Office, a body which scrutinises public spending for parliament.
Gig economy
Freelance and short-term work is on the rise, partly driven by companies like Uber and Deliveroo. Workers usually do not have set hours and their wages can fluctuate.
Spice
A synthetic drug that mimics cannabis. It is cheap and highly dangerous. At least 90% of rough sleepers in Manchester smoke spice and it has caused a spate of deaths.
Integrated
By addressing mental health, drug addiction and housing among other issues, the government’s strategy recognises that there are a range of societal and personal factors that can lead a person to homelessness. Integrated approaches have been shown to be more effective than strategies that just address one factor.

Subjects

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