Voluntary income won’t plug the gaps, we need ringfenced funding to protect homelessness services

Chris Burgess, 08 November 2022

Kent’s largest homelessness service was decommissioned in October – just as people need help more than ever.

In an effort to tighten their belt as costs continue to rise, the local authority, Kent County Council, has stopped funding for homelessness services that support single people. This will have a catastrophic impact across the county.

The Kent Homeless Connect service provides specialist housing-related support to thousands of people who are homeless or at risk of becoming so. In addition to making sure people are housed, it helps them to overcome complex problems that are linked to homelessness like poor mental health, substance use and trauma from domestic abuse.

Kent Homeless Connect has been delivered by Porchlight and other organisations since 2018. Sadly, we know that its decommissioning will have devastating consequences, especially as the cost of living crisis intensifies.

Losing the Kent Homeless Connect service will lead to a £5 million annual shortfall in the county’s homelessness funding. Already overstretched housing services will become log-jammed, reducing the help available for newly homeless people and making it harder for those receiving support to move into work and homes of their own. It will also drive up costs for local councils and put extra strain on NHS services.

Here at Porchlight, we’re doing everything we can to keep a lifeline in place for people who have nowhere else to turn. Kent County Council has awarded transition funding up to March 2024 to help us manage our responsibilities to the service and the people who rely on its support. 

In the meantime, we’re striving to secure new sources of funding, including developing relationships with health partners. Changes to health and social care, including mental health transformation and the new integrated care systems, are placing new emphasis on addressing the social determinants of health and it’s clear that voluntary sector organisations like ours have an important role to play.

Partnership working

We’re working closely with local councils to keep safety nets in place for people who are homeless or rough sleeping in Kent. This includes looking for opportunities to deliver new supported housing through the Single Homelessness Accommodation Programme.

But we know that councils could also be facing cuts – funding for programmes including the Rough Sleeper Initiative and the Next Steps Accommodation Programme has not been guaranteed long-term.

And this funding can only do so much when wider factors such as the cost of living crisis, cuts to housing benefit and a shortage of social housing mean more people are pushed towards homelessness.

Central government has to understand that homelessness services need long-term, sustainable funding if we’re going to meet the growing needs of people facing homelessness. We need more homelessness support, not less, and local authorities must be helped to prioritise funding for these vital services.

The picture in Kent

Nationally, the numbers of people turning to councils for help is growing. But in four areas of Kent, the increase in people at risk of homelessness exceeds that seen in the rest of England.

In five Kent areas, resident earnings are below the national average. Despite this, the cost of renting is over 10% higher than the English average and local housing allowance rates, used to calculate housing benefit, no longer cover the cheapest 30% of one-bedroom rental properties.

Our vision for homelessness services

With the number of people who need help increasing, their needs becoming more complex and funders increasingly pulled in multiple directions, we know we’re going to be heavily reliant on voluntary income. 

We’ve launched a campaign – ‘Keep the door open’ – to help Porchlight raise the funds to rebuild homelessness services here in Kent.

Our vision for the future isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution because everyone’s journey into homelessness is different. We want to provide housing-related support in a way that matches each person’s needs and preferences:

  • Short-term shared housing for people with low support needs who need a place to stay whilst they get back on their feet.
  • Longer-term independent accommodation for people with medium to high support needs who need more intensive support before being ready to move on.
  • A home for as long as it’s needed for people with the most complex needs who struggle to engage with other types of homelessness support and require long-term wraparound support to be able to move on with their lives.

By building support around the person and their goals, and working with partners to bring housing and health services together, we can turn the tide on homelessness and rough sleeping.

But voluntary income won’t be able to plug the gaps in funding long-term. The cuts in Kent will hit the most vulnerable the hardest as our ability to continue the work that’s needed is threatened.

We’re determined to do everything we can to maintain vital homelessness services here in the county, but we can’t do it alone. The government needs to act now to prevent a worsening homelessness crisis, by restoring ringfenced funding for housing-related support so that everyone can get the help they need to find and keep a home.