Treating homelessness as a systemic problem

By Rachel Tait 29 November 2018

This week we published a report about the homelessness crisis in the UK. It’s geared towards funders, with the goal of demonstrating that homelessness is a problem caused by the failure of systems and includes suggestions for interventions that can tackle these failures.

We bring together government data, existing research and insight from people working in the sector to highlight the scale of the issue and share our ideas for funding systemically. Here’s a brief overview of what we found.

Homelessness is rising in the UK

Many of us walk past people living on the streets as we go about our daily lives. The number of people sleeping rough has risen 169% since 2010, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. What you and I can’t see is the number of households living in temporary accommodation provided by local authorities has risen by 56% since 2010. Just last week, Shelter published research estimating that 252,850 people live in temporary accommodation in and out of the system. We know this includes at least 123,000 children.

Homelessness is about disadvantage

It’s a modern truism that anyone can become homeless, but it’s not really accurate. The truth is that poverty is the single most powerful explanation of why people become homeless. And certain groups—young people, single parents, BAME people—are more likely to be poor, so are more likely to experience homelessness. This link is stronger than more commonly cited explanatory factors such as substance misuse or mental health issues.

It’s hard to break the cycle of disadvantage

There are systemic factors that drive poverty and keep people homeless. Lack of genuinely affordable housing is a good example—73% of respondents in Homeless Link’s Annual Review of Single Homelessness Support in England identified the lack of genuinely affordable housing as preventing people from moving on from their services. We explore this and other factors such as low pay, low levels of housebuilding and social housing, welfare reform and cuts to local authority budgets in the report. Serious efforts to end homelessness need to address these underlying root causes.

The problem needs intervention at all levels

The causes of homelessness are complicated and happen at different levels. Some are social, some are personal, some are policy and market failures. Solutions have to match this scale and complexity. Funders should be conscious of which level of the system they are working in and how that relates to other levels. Funding an effective service could have limited impact if people find the service difficult to access or don’t have anything to move on to. Considering the root causes of homelessness in whatever you fund is a good starting point.

We’ve got big ambitions for funders who are interested in ending homelessness. One day we’d like to see a pooled fund where foundations and philanthropists collaboratively fund long-term initiatives that are shaped by data and evidence and recognise the wider system around homelessness. But we can’t do this on our own. We’re looking for others to collaborate and provide vital funding for this area.

Read the report here. We’re keen to hear feedback and ideas about how we can take this work forward.  Please get in touch.




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