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Welsh Action Group: recommendations to reduce and end rough sleeping

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive

This week’s Action Group meeting worked on the recommendations for reducing and ending rough sleeping, which I sketched in last month’s Action Group blog. We are focusing on rough sleeping now, but will broaden out our work to consider all forms of homelessness in the coming weeks and months.

At this meeting we revisited the recommendations and started to prepare our first report for Julie James AM, Housing and Local Government Minister, looking at each one and deciding what to keep, to add to, take away from, or edit, based on the evidence. We spent a fair bit of time looking at how to implement them, based on what works in other places, what could be scaled-up, or what needs to change in the short or longer term.

However, before we looked at the recommendations, we heard an update from the consultation work with people who have experience of homelessness and from people who work directly with those affected. There are some really useful insights coming from this already. For example, almost half of people with experience of homelessness who have responded to date made access to accommodation without barriers their top priority and fewer barriers to getting support was also a very high priority. I’ve put the links to the relevant surveys at the end of this blog, if you or your contacts would like to take part in either or both.

What struck me from the many survey responses we’ve had already from people with experience of homelessness was the vast majority were still worried about their housing situation, despite quite a number of people being in accommodation now, including people in their own home and people in less secure types of housing. That underlined for me the importance of remembering that rough sleeping can never be tackled in isolation from wider forms of homelessness or unstable housing. That’s why this set of recommendations for rough sleeping is only the first step for the Action Group.

For winter 2019-20, we’re going to recommend the Minister focuses on specific areas where rough sleeping is a particular concern and where we stand a chance of implementing some changes to the system this year that we can evaluate for other places to use and translate into their own circumstances.

We will recommend that each of these specific areas has outreach support that does what works according to the evidence, which is that outreach must have a primary aim to end homelessness; that it is a way into multi-agency support; that it is persistent, purposeful and assertive; and that outreach workers empowered to do what is needed and make decisions around the support needed there-and-then (for example through the use of personal budgets) . However, there are some changes – many of them relatively modest - that we will recommend to ensure multiple agencies can work together and help people access good quality emergency accommodation.

We will also recommend ways that Welsh Government can work with local authorities, police and other partners to ensure the law is a helpful tool for reducing rough sleeping and ending homelessness. There is definitely potential in the short-term to ensure housing law and other regulations can be relaxed to help more people away from the streets in the short term.

Access to emergency accommodation that is dignified, safe and suitable (for example for couples or to help people with addictions) is critical to this. We must be clear, however, that ‘emergency’ should not be a byword for dangerous or unsafe, undignified, or unsuitable accommodation and people should only stay there for a short time. This has already come up strongly in the responses from people with experience of homelessness and how important access to accommodation is. The exact needs for this vary between areas but will involve charities, voluntary and faith-based provision as well as statutory.

All of these solutions are about reducing levels of rough sleeping and lessening the harm, but in the longer term there are a number of steps we will recommend to prevent rough sleeping in the first place:

  • Improving data to give people working in homelessness the information they need and better Wales-wide data on what works.
  • Getting pathways fully implemented so anyone who is discharged from a state institution is able to access safe and secure housing. This is likely to include measures to get outreach or support workers directly into state institutions to start helping people well before discharge.
  • More measures to implement a ‘no wrong door’ approach across public services, linked to the above recommendation, but building on work that’s occurring elsewhere, e.g. recognising risk and providing education-based support to prevent youth homelessness. This will build on the current prevention and relief system and help take prevention further ‘upstream’.
  • Ending evictions from social housing into homelessness. There’s a lot of variation across Wales in rates of eviction but also growing consensus among social landlords about the need to scale-up the best practice already happening. It seems most suitable as a first step that landlords agree how to do this with partners on a voluntary basis. In doing this, we will need to address the nominations and allocations processes to ensure people experiencing homelessness and people at risk of homelessness can access social housing and not be evicted into homelessness from it.
  • How we reduce barriers and, over time, rewire the support and rehousing system to put rapid rehousing as the default. This is not just about Housing First for some people but how the system, service practices, commissioning and so on can prioritise support and housing for all who need it. We will come to this in more detail later in the Action Group’s work as it’s a specific question the Minister has asked us to address.

Finally, there’s a big role for the public, for businesses and volunteers in helping to end homelessness, from every day actions to keeping pressure on politicians to make the policy changes needed. But at the moment there’s plenty of evidence members of the public are not clear on what they can best do in the short term to help people or even what the longer-term policy solutions to homelessness are. We can build on some good recent public campaigns about this and also continue to encourage kindness and shared humanity in public discussion.

The next step for the Action Group is to finalise these recommendations. We want to get them to the Minister as soon as possible and by early October at the latest. Please do get involved:

 

 

 

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