Having somewhere safe and affordable to live must be part of post-coronavirus recovery plans

Francesca Albanese, 09 April 2021

There’s much to learn from the quick and radical response to homelessness at the start of the pandemic. However, with the continued critical shortage of affordable housing in England and as the economic shocks of the last year hit, we will almost certainly see homelessness increase again unless we have a long-term strategy to end it.

Over the past three months, a number of reports collated on the Thinkhouse library have focused on people experiencing homelessness and the solutions to tackle the systemic causes.

Using data to design the right solutions

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s report on understanding the vulnerabilities, needs and experiences of people rough sleeping draws on data from 563 people who have experienced rough sleeping in the last year. It’s a rich data set that can help us understand more about the lives of people forced to sleep on our streets, but more importantly, provides evidence to better design and improve services and solutions to stop it happening in the first place.

The profile of people who were surveyed shows that many had experienced other forms of homelessness before sleeping rough. More than three quarters of people had stayed in some form of short-term homeless accommodation such as hostels and night shelters, and nearly half had been sofa surfing. This chimes with other evidence that rough sleeping is not usually a person’s first experience of homelessness. It also supports calls that much more can be done in policy terms to prevent rough sleeping and ensure homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurrent.

Housing associations can sign up to the NHF’s commitment to ending homelessness through the Commitment to Refer.

Growing Housing First

One of the most effective and evidenced solutions to end rough sleeping and homelessness for people facing multiple challenges is Housing First. Homeless Link’s report ‘The Picture of Housing First in England 2020 provides more detail on the profile in England. The report is an update of research conducted in 2017 and has found an almost six-fold increase in the capacity of Housing First services. Whilst supporting 1,995 people into Housing First services is still a long way from the 16,450 we need to address current need, the research shows much progress has been made.

The report highlights positive developments in the provision of Housing First services. This includes that more services are using social housing (81% in 2020 compared to 61% in 2017) and six services that work specifically with women.

However, there are a still many barriers to overcome. Funding is still reported to be short-term, raising challenges in retaining staff and adhering to Housing First principles, which are built on the philosophy that flexible support is provided for as long as it’s needed. Accessing suitable accommodation is still by far the biggest challenge cited by Housing First services.

You can read the NHF’s report and recommendations on how housing associations can deliver the Housing First model.

Temporary accommodation during the coronavirus crisis

Shelter have published a report looking at families who spent lockdown in temporary accommodation. The report found that life in temporary accommodation during the coronavirus pandemic had affected their mental well-being, with families feeling that their lives were on hold while they wondered whether they would move or not.

Quality housing and support as part of recovery

All three reports point to policy solutions that could improve lives: more social housing, upscaling Housing First, and increasing quick access to permanent, appropriate homes for people experiencing homelessness.

As we come out of lockdown there is renewed focus on how we can build a more resilient and sustainable society as part of our recovery. Having somewhere safe and affordable to live must be part of any strategy to achieve this.

Thinkhouse is a free online library of research pieces, policy publications and case studies that propose ways to increase the amount and quality of the UK's housing stock and the related economic, social and community benefits of doing this.