Homelessness lessons from home and abroad
International findings on homelessness explored in lecture at Somerset House.
White House advisor and world-renowned homelessness expert Professor Dennis Culhane joined Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick of Herriot Watt University and Andy Gale, an adviser on homelessness to the Department for Communities and Local Government, for Homelessness in Austere Times: Lessons from home and abroad at Somerset House, London. The event highlighted that spending on homelessness prevention and effective monitoring of the homeless population are key.
Professor Culhane kicked off with findings from New York City and Philadelphia, which for years had been keeping detailed records of people forced to rely on homeless shelters in the cities. Analysing the data Culhane found that a relatively small percentage of ‘chronic' homeless people were using a large proportion of available shelter beds and state homeless resources.
In the late 80s in New York City the population was becoming increasingly appalled at the 16,000 rough sleepers in parks and on the streets. In response, New York State and New York City teamed up to provide supported housing units to some of the most vulnerable. Professor Culhane then compared the costs to the public purse of the newly housed population to those still living on the streets.
The findings were stark: Those left on the streets were costing the state at least $40,449 per year in healthcare and incarceration fees. The newly housed population was costing around $16,000 less per year - roughly the cost of providing them accommodation.
Professor Culhane said: "We found with this very solid evidence base ..... that by investing in taking them out of homelessness we were more or less breaking even. Of course on top of that we no longer had people dying in cardboard boxes under our feet." The New York New York programme, as it was called, made such an impact, reducing rough sleeping in the city to 2,200, that the Bush administration rolled out the scheme nationally.
More recently the Obama administration invested $1.5 billion into the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Programme (HPRP) which has been running for the past three years. The combined result of these two US pushes was a 36% decrease in chronic homelessness between 2005 and 2010 and no overall rise in homelessness as witnessed in the UK. Culhane warned, however, that HPRP is now coming to an end.
Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick is studying international approaches to homelessness on behalf of the Welsh Government. She emphasised the importance of monitoring of homeless populations, citing the strong US evidence base Culhane discussed in New York, and also praised Finnish evidence gathering. Both countries have achieved significant reductions in homeless populations. She contrasted this with faltering progress in Ireland and France, which have registered comparatively little success in tackling homelessness and do not monitor their homeless populations in as much detail.
Andy Gale from CLG and Professor Fitzpatrick discussed contrasting approaches to tackling homelessness in England and Scotland. Gale raised concerns with the Scottish approach of housing everyone who approached their council at risk of homelessness. He cited rising accommodation costs due to putting people in expensive temporary options such as B&Bs.