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Working together to end homelessness in Wales

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive

Twelve people sat down for the first meeting of the Welsh Government’s new Homelessness Action Group on Friday 28 June. With this statement from Julie James AM, Housing and Local Government Minister, clearly front of mind:

“The Welsh Government is committed to the goal of ending homelessness in Wales.”

It is such a privilege to be asked to Chair this Homelessness Action Group, although I am very clear it is going to be a team effort with the 12 members of the Group (listed in the Welsh Housing Quarterly coverage), people with lived experience of homelessness, the Government officials who are supporting our work, front-line workers and many, many other stakeholders from across the homelessness, housing and public services sectors. We’ve given ourselves until March 2020 to complete our work, but we’ll have plenty of listening to do, and plenty to say before that.

There have been so many positive developments in tackling homelessness in recent years in Wales, from the prevention duties to commitments on youth homelessness and rough sleeping, and looking to scale-up the Housing First approach. However, one missing element has been the framework to bring it all together and really make homelessness an urgent public service challenge rather than just a housing question. With that in mind it was encouraging to hear the First Minister mention the action group and the importance of housing and support in plenary last week. 

From the first meeting, it is really clear we have a team of very experienced, passionate and determined people who all work to end homelessness in their daily work. They have agreed to work quickly to gather the evidence, listen to experts including experts by experience, and put forward some answers soon. In bringing the group together I was keen not only to ensure we had members from across Wales but also a range of different perspectives.

While the action group is going to work at a pace to solve homelessness in Wales I thought it was important that we also set the scene by looking at the evidence. Dr Peter Mackie is a leading expert in housing and homelessness and the evidence of what works to prevent, respond and solve it. Peter's presentation slides are available to download.

With the knowledge of the evidence we were then well placed to look at the questions we are going to answer. We have agreed with the Welsh Government a series of challenging questions:

  1. What framework of policies, approaches and plans is needed to end homelessness in Wales?
  2. What immediate actions can we take to reduce rough sleeping between now and the winter of 2019/20, and to end rough sleeping altogether?
  3. How do we put the delivery of rapid and permanent rehousing at the heart of preventing, tackling and ending homelessness?
  4. How can we ensure joined-up local partnerships and plans are put in place to prevent, tackle and end homelessness throughout Wales?

Question 1 really sets the tone and structure for the rest of the action group’s work. Almost every solution we look at will be aimed at ending homelessness, so in this question we will define what ‘ending homelessness’ means in practice and the overarching measures we need to take.

I lead Crisis, which last year published a plan to end homelessness across Great Britain and I firmly believe that with the right government policies and approaches in place it can be ended in Wales. Of course, not all of these policies will be devolved to Wales but the action group’s consensus was that we have enough powers to make a difference but we should also not hold back from commenting on the impact of UK policy areas decided in Westminster.

Another urgent matter for the action group was looking at question 2, on rough sleeping right now and in the run-up to winter.  The short-term options to help people who are rough sleeping immediately out of danger do not always work in the longer-term, nor do they necessarily help end rough sleeping overall if we simply repeated these short-term solutions every year. So, for example, if we were to increase night shelter provision this year we would want to look at more permanent housing for everyone who is currently on the street as well. That's a contradiction that we accepted as a group, knowing we can all work to save lives and prevent people’s health getting worse while developing a longer-term approach.

Rough sleeping is so visible in many towns and cities across Wales and is the sharpest and most dangerous form of homelessness. However, in order to end homelessness there must be housing for those who are currently spending night after night on the sofas of friends, people stuck in temporary accommodation currently without the prospect of moving on, and those in hostels or even sheds and cars. The action group will look at these forms of homelessness too as we answer the questions on rapid and permanent rehousing for everyone. We will look at these questions in a bit more detail once we have completed the group’s most urgent actions. One of our first priorities is to use all of the expertise and experience in the action group to come up with a practical plan to ensure meaningful input from people with experience of homelessness – whether personal or through delivering services to people affected. The other priority is to look at the question of what Wales can do about rough sleeping now.

The action group agreed that we will be open and transparent in the way we work. I will post a blog update as soon as possible after each meeting but there will be opportunities for people to contribute to the work soon.

In the meantime do join the first conversation on Twitter with #homelessnessactiongroup


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