You’re on the street and people often ignore the fact that you’re there. Over time, your mental health is in severe decline. You don’t have the money for a hostel and there’s only a few options available where you are. With the threat of getting fined or the police moving you on, you end up feeling invisible, a pariah or both. This isn’t the life you wanted.
So far in this series, I have reiterated several truths. The count used for much of the work to tackle rough sleeping is wildly inaccurate (not helped by a lack of funding). There seems to be little political appetite to eliminate archaic laws. There’s even new campaigns and protection orders that punish, instead of problem-solve. There’s also some accommodation options out there that suffer from crime, poor conditions and funding issues.
There needs to be a cultural shift – homeless people need to feel like people again
“…people looking down at you. Throwing things at you. You’re asleep and then you wake up and someone’s pissing on you. Or people will go past in a car and think it’s funny to throw a pound coin at you, as hard as they can, hoping they’re going to hit you.”Darren O’Shea, Four Feet Under: untold stories of homelessness in London
The prince and the politicians
- a network of expertise, partners and funders at a local and national level
- providing up to £500,000 of funding to support the delivery of action plans
- appointing a local lead to support the locations
- working with an independent research partner that will support with capacity building.
The Royal Foundation website says each location will be on a path to end homelessness after five years. The lack of any specific, measurable targets allows for expectation management.
Whilst the intentions are good, I’m sceptical about its chances of succeeding. As it stands, it’s basically discussion, action plans and a limited amount of housebuilding in a small number of locations. The royal family are also not supposed to intervene in political matters. The politicians are supposed to deliver change.
- £500mn for a rough sleeping initiative
- 2,400 homes – a mixture of supported housing and Housing First
- £316mn to local authorities for preventative action
- Housing First trials extended to 2025
- £550mn for support to prison leavers
- £186mn for drug and alcohol treatment
- Nearly £40mn for 69 local authorities to help young people
- £10mn for night shelter improvement.
These are serious sums of money, pleasing mentions of Housing First and promises to tackle addiction issues.
However, 2,400 homes don’t even cover the number of rough sleepers in the official figures. There are also the people in temporary shelters and those who are ‘sofa surfing’. The ‘69 local authorities’ is based on those with the greatest number of young children at risk – but there are at-risk children everywhere.
Extending the Housing First trials is good, but it doesn’t fix the problems reported such as lack of housing stock and staff. It’s good that money is going to drug and alcohol treatment, but how do they know this figure is enough? Also, will the investment mean rough sleepers with these problems are more likely to accept support?
Since the report’s publication, it seems things have changed. Multiple homelessness charities have noted the increase in rough sleepers, as well as the lack of funding for local authorities. Some have noted serious policy failures.
A vision of the future
All projects must start with a vision. It’s the guiding statement that influences actions and people. Solving the problem of rough sleeping is no different.
In part 3 of this series I mentioned the principles of Housing First:
It’s also worth considering the Homeless Bill of Rights, which several European cities have signed up to. It lists the rights to:
- Decent housing and emergency accommodation
- Use public spaces
- Equal treatment
- A postal address
- Basic sanitary and emergency facilities
- Data protection and privacy
- Do what is necessary to survive within the law.
It promises the ability to live like a human being.
Rough sleeping shouldn’t exist. When problems arise, steps should be taken to solve them, not pushing it somewhere else or making people’s lives worse. My vision is:
Everyone should be treated with decency, regardless of income, personal problems or living arrangements. Everyone should have equal access to essential services and support. Where there is the prospect of sleeping rough, there should be rapid access to accommodation and whatever is needed for the person to gain stability.
A call for action
We must end up having universal and fully funded implementation of Housing First. That will take a long time though and a number of things must be done before then:
- Nationwide adoption of the Homeless Bill of Rights.
- An end to the Vagrancy Act and Public Space Protection Orders. This would make begging legal and allow rough sleepers to generate more income.
- A new counting system with a uniform method that’s done multiple times each year. This needs to be backed up with vastly improved funding for local authorities.
- Greater availability of public facilities such as toilets to help with e.g. cleanliness (reversing a noticeable decline).
- A local authority run PO box system, meaning that rough sleepers have a place to receive important post such as information about benefits and appointments.
- A significant, nationwide investment in new social housing. This addresses the issue of stock from the Housing First trials. Greater funding must be given to local authorities to help.
- As construction of sufficient housing will take time, we also need reform of the poor-quality shelters and temporary accommodation. It would also be great to see closed facilities re-open.
- Yes, there’s investment in drug and alcohol support mentioned in Ending Rough Sleeping for Good, but there needs to be more of it, greater staffing, new ideas, and access to help with mental health.
Laugh? I nearly died!
“It is fatal to look hungry. It makes people want to kick you.”–George Orwell, Down and out in Paris and London
Rough sleepers suffer from verbal and physical abuse, have their limited possessions stolen and people laugh at them when they’re fighting a daily battle to survive. Their situation can happen to anyone – how would it affect you?
Enough is enough.
Compassion, commitment and real change needs to start now.
Parts 1 to 3 of these series are available here.