Homelessness is growing, but we can make it a thing of the past

Housing homeless and vulnerable people has always been a key part of what the sector does, be it during the industrial revolution, after the Second World War, or in the wake of Cathy Come Home. It’s what the sector was set up to do, and what we’ll always be committed to. On World Homeless Day, I talk to one of our tenants with a history of homelessness about what housing has meant for him.

Sarah-Jane Gay is Policy Officer at the National Housing Federation

Sarah-Jane Gay is Policy Officer at the National Housing Federation

10 October 2017

Alfie* had been homeless for two years. In that time he’d lived in temporary accommodation and hostels, had long stints in hospital, or slept rough on makeshift cardboard beds in doorways and side streets.

This is 21st century Britain. Where nearly 60,000 households were accepted by local authorities as homeless in the year ending June 2017, where the number of rough sleepers has increased by 132% since 2010, where 120,000 children live in temporary accommodation, and where hidden homelessness is estimated to be as high as 3.34 million people.

Alfie’s health problems meant he qualified for priority need housing. But his time on the street had left him struggling to cope with everyday activities. The combination of self-neglect and a lack of appropriate support led him to become isolated, withdrawn, and afraid of the world outside the walls of his flat.

While the causes of homelessness are complex, lack of housing supply and welfare reform are two of the factors that have built the homelessness crisis we see today. A crisis that continues to snowball, as the 2019 extension of Local Housing Allowance to general needs social housing looms on the horizon, questions around the funding for supported housing  remain unanswered, and as the roll-out of Universal Credit continues to cause significant challenges to landlords and tenants alike.

Alfie was rehoused in a supported accommodation scheme by his local housing association. In his time there, he’s been able to develop friendships, relearn life skills and re-establish a relationship with his family. He’s become popular in the community and is a big fan of his local pub’s karaoke night, with a self-described ‘embarrassingly loud’ rendition of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues as his go-to song. His health problems mean he might not work again, but he has a home, he has support, and he has a life he enjoys and people to enjoy it with.

Homelessness is on the political agenda like never before. A new focus on solutions, like Housing First, the Homelessness Reduction Act, or high-profile projects in Greater Manchester or the West Midlands, are part of tackling the crisis. Housing associations too, continue to be part of the solution, with their wealth of experience of specialist services – such as MossCare St Vincent’s foyers for young people, or Bromford’s Neighbourhood Coaches, who help sustain tenancies through housing management and support.

Last week the sector received great news on the £2bn for new social builds, and a post-2020 rent settlement. But there’s more work to be done to reach our ambition to deliver a home for everyone, at a price they can afford. By renewing our focus on homelessness we’re working to ensure that World Homeless Day becomes a thing of the past, and that anyone experiencing or at risk of homelessness is supported to reach a future like Alfie’s - with safe and secure housing, community, and dodgy karaoke as and when it’s needed.


Over the coming months we'll be working with our members to develop our sector’s offer on homelessness in the context of the current crisis. We'll have more details on our website soon.

*Names have been changed.

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