Birds eye view of houses

What can the social sector do to help the homelessness crisis?



14 November 2019 5 minute read

In the past 10 years rough sleeping has increased by 165%; shocking figures revealed 726 people died rough sleeping in 2018 and rough sleepers are 17 times more likely to be involved in a serious violent attack compared to other people. How did the UK get to this crisis point? What will homelessness look like in the future? Surely, this is the tipping point? You only have to walk down the street in any UK city to witness the harsh reality of a system that isn’t working.

Slashes to public funding, huge spikes in rent increases, and house prices coupled with the lack of new social housing has contributed to this rise but what can the social sector do to help the most vulnerable in society?

NPC convened an event to discuss what the social sector should do to tackle homelessness over the next ten years. Is the answer for the sector to give more power to those with lived experience, or campaigning for policy change? The event discussion was wide ranging but here we have highlighted key solutions that could support the homeless sector in the coming years.


Cross-sector collaboration is vital

One of the biggest challenges with addressing the homelessness crisis effectively is that homelessness is rarely a single issue. It is predominately the symptom of wider problems—typically people who are homeless are suffering from multi-disadvantage, having experienced a break down in family relationships, the criminal justice system or pre-existing mental health problems. A systemic cross-sector collaboration is needed so people don’t fall through the cracks. However, due to a lack of funding across the sector and organisations competing for contracts, the homelessness sector is rarely joined up with itself or other sectors, such as health or criminal justice.

Martin Burrows, Director of Research and Campaigns from Groundswell, warned that charities working in silos can inadvertently marginalise those we are trying to help. For example, creating a specialised health intervention for homelessness can mean homeless people struggle to access mainstream health services. Groundswell are beginning to focus more on health and, going forward, taking an asset-based approach in their work. But Groundswell says collaboration is needed to ensure lasting change.


Influencing policy and public awareness

Balbir Chatrik, Director of Policy and Comms from Centrepoint argued that influencing public opinion is the key. The public should think it’s not right to see someone on the street. They should ask—what can I do about it? They should be outraged that this is happening in one of the richest countries in the world. The public should know that homelessness is not just about rough sleeping. The scale of the problem goes beyond this, hidden homelessness—that is people living in temporary accommodation, B&Bs or hostels—has dramatically risen. The Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government estimates 84,740 households were living in temporary accommodation in 2019.

Public attention is focused on eye catching interventions that rarely have a huge impact. For example, in Australia a project that provided homeless people with overnight beds and shelter in car parks would receive a disproportionate amount of attention compared to ‘duller’ early intervention projects which could stop the problem before it happens.  There needs to be a shift in the public’s mindsets, they should be thinking that everyone has a right to a permanent home.


Giving a voice to those with lived-experience

Lived experience should be at the heart of decision making—those who have experienced something first-hand can provide invaluable insight into an issue compared to those removed from it. The panel collectively felt user-focused design and delivery of programmes is a more effective approach. As Jennie Thompson said: ‘We know that lived experience provides viable insight into services, development performance and strategy.’

As a sector we need to ensure that those with lived experience are consistently supported through different support mechanisms. There is an increased dialogue across the sector about the power of user voice, and giving people a voice. Helen Mathie from Homeless Link warned the sector that: ‘We need to move away from talking about people having a voice, people do have a voice we just need to listen.’


The Housing First model

Each of the panellists referenced the Housing First model as an initiative the sector can learn from. The model which was invented in the USA, is an approach that has been tested in the UK. It’s also gained attention recently having moved up the news agenda after Jeremy Corbyn publicly supported it. In the simplest form, the model gives homeless people affordable housing as quickly as possible. However, the cost of it has been questioned—providing housing like this is inevitably very expensive. As Jennie Thompson from the National Lottery Community Fund pointed out ‘one size does not fit all.’ But the model has been effective in many instances. The learning to take from this model is that there needs to be a rigorous evidence base.

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