Agreeing an action plan to end homelessness in Wales
It was hugely encouraging this week when the Welsh Government issued a statement to accept all the recommendations of the Homelessness Action Group that I had the privilege to chair, and to reaffirm the Government’s commitment to taking the steps needed to end homelessness in Wales.
Along with the statement, the Action Group’s final report - Preventing, tackling and ending homelessness through rapid rehousing and local, regional and national partnerships – was published. It provides some extra practical recommendations, including on plans to bring about rapid rehousing approaches and how to build on the coronavirus response. The report builds on the Action Group’s main report from March on the framework of policies and approaches needed to end homelessness in Wales.
We also learned from the Welsh Government’s statement that more than 3,200 people with nowhere safe to stay during the pandemic have been helped into emergency accommodation to date. This is the result of extraordinary partnership work by councils, public services and the Government. It has undoubtedly saved lives and enabled more people than ever to get support that could help end homelessness. It’s a good example of how empowering services – with funding, guidance, and clear outcomes to achieve – ensures that they can do whatever it takes to help people facing homelessness.
Welsh Government is uniquely placed to lead the work, which is why the Action Group recommended that we have a government plan to end homelessness
We also must recognise, however, that there are some big challenges still ahead. We have not yet ended homelessness for many people. The number of people in temporary accommodation across Wales – and without a home - is at its highest level since 2015, when the current system began. The economic impact of the pandemic risks piling more pressure onto individuals and households already at the brink of losing their homes.
The success of the short-term action is a good starting point. As councils continue their emergency work and the ‘phase 2’ response – to ensure no one is forced back onto the street or into unsafe accommodation - we must maintain momentum. I was pleased to see the Welsh Government acknowledge the need for long term funding for the work to prevent and end homelessness. Councils in particular are asking for more certainty so that they can make longer term plans.
We will all have a part to play in preventing and ending homelessness, and the Action Group highlighted how we can ensure partnerships are in place at national, regional and local level and between public services. But Welsh Government is uniquely placed to lead the work, which is why the Action Group recommended that we have a government plan to end homelessness. I’m looking forward to working with the Minister and her officials to help them agree an action plan in response to the Action Group’s recommendations. This next step is crucial to making sure the recommendations are brought to life and shared across Wales as a programme of short, medium and long term steps to secure lasting change.
As the Action Group itself has completed its work I want to take the opportunity to thank my fellow Action Group members for working at pace and bringing to the group their influence, expertise and skills. This happened while they were all very busy in their own organisations and roles, particularly this year during the pandemic. It was a privilege to be able to hear from many people with lived experience of homelessness, people working in homelessness and housing roles, and representatives from local government, housing, health and public services and I’m grateful to people for sharing their experiences. I’d also like to thank the Minister and her officials for their ambitious approach, and for being open to hearing the evidence on what works to end homelessness.
The coronavirus outbreak has changed many things and it is not clear as yet how and when Wales, the UK and the world will return to a sense of normality. We were clear as an Action Group that we do not want to return to the situation we were in during early 2020, where hundreds of people were sleeping on the street and in inadequate temporary accommodation. Instead we must put in place the policies and approaches that will deliver a future where everyone has a home and homelessness is ended. That goal is as clear now as it was before the outbreak, and we’ve already taken some of the steps needed to get there. It is now the responsibility of each and every one of us to do our bit, with the Welsh Government leading from the front with an ambitious plan to end homelessness.
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