Homelessness is a growing issue for local authorities – both rough sleeping and helping those in precarious housing situations. Since 2010, rough sleeping in England has increased by 168 per cent and the number of households in temporary accommodation reached 78,930 at the end of 2017 – a 60 per cent increase since 2011. In the current climate of tightened budgets and the new Homelessness Reduction Bill, is it time to reconsider the ways we tackle homelessness?
Housing First, which has been successful in Finland and the US, is an approach based on the premise that treating homeless people with multiple and complex needs is more successful when permanent accommodation is given first. Evidence suggests Housing First improves users’ physical and mental health, reduces the need for emergency health services and decreases the number of interactions with the justice system. Estimates suggest the cost of a rough sleeper for one year is £20,128, compared to £1,426 where successful interventions have been carried out. The cost of housing people with complex needs through Housing First can thus be offset with savings elsewhere. Efforts by central government to develop a national strategy to combat homelessness includes £28m of funding to pilot the Housing First approach in the West Midlands, Manchester and Liverpool. Initial results from research into Manchester’s pilot reveal strong, positive outcomes – including greater cooperation with social landlords and successful engagement with homeless people.
A social enterprise in Scotland, dedicated to reducing homelessness, provides one example that combines the use of the Housing First approach with the concept of modular housing. Social Bite uses vacant, council-owned land to provide accommodation for people dependent on unsupported temporary accommodation, B&Bs and shelters. It also provides skills and employment support in a community environment.
Across London, 16 councils are setting up a not-for-profit modular housing company to deliver temporary modular housing as a cheaper alternative to B&Bs and other emergency accommodation. The plan, which has been awarded £11m by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, is being led by Tower Hamlets. Councils such as Bromley, Lewisham and Warwickshire have also been exploring modular housing to tackle homelessness amid pressures on services. Lewisham’s PLACE/Ladywell modular project comprises 24 two-bedroom units that are 77m2 each. It used the Right to Buy receipts to subsidise the cost of the project and expects rents to cover the costs after 10 years. Other projects undertaken by councils are of a similar size, so questions remain about whether these projects can be scaled up and how appropriate these new developments are in terms of regulations on space and quality. Yet, what is being done regarding wider solutions to increase the supply of affordable housing for the 80,000 families in temporary accommodation or sofa surfing? There are many ways councils are tackling this increasingly urgent issue, including property acquisition for the use of homeless families, reducing use of B&Bs through developing council accommodation, and collaboration with other councils to avoid duplicating efforts and modular housing.
It is too soon to understand the long-term effects of current measures used to tackle homelessness, and questions remain about the scalability of these policies. But it is clear that, to manage the increased pressure on services, councils are having to come up with different and innovative approaches. Equally, the root causes of homelessness must be addressed through preventative measures such as collaboration between councils, addressing housing affordability, employment opportunities and mental health services.