In the last year, the number of rough sleepers has fallen dramatically in London and across England. The backdrop of a steady increases in street homeless figures which we have seen in the last decade – with an almost two-fold increase in London – makes this fall even more significant.
What made this radical change possible and, more importantly, how can we keep the momentum going and end rough sleeping for good?
As we start to see numbers creeping up again, it is a crucial moment to reflect on the shift that has taken place during this period, and the lessons that the homelessness support sector can learn from this experience.
Interestingly, the COVID-19 crisis we continue to face, while posing a serious threat to our society, has given the sector a renewed urgency to meet the goal of ending rough sleeping.
The most important example of that, the government’s ‘Everyone In’ initiative which brought an estimated 37,000 people off the street nationally, marked the start of a transitional period where we saw different organisations working together in creative ways to fight a common threat under clear guidance from the government.
New partnerships – between housing associations, local authorities, health providers and charities – sprung up quickly in the wake of the pandemic, together with a renewed sense of purpose.
As the Kerslake Commissions pointed out, engagement with hard-to-reach groups such as non-UK nationals increased significantly over the past year, mainly because of the temporary removal of barriers that stopped some of these groups from accessing services in the past.
Also, crucial health assessments were quickly put in place to prevent vulnerable groups from catching the virus. Thankfully, many clients who were housed during this period are now accessing the support they needed so desperately.
Our own experience of supporting people who are homeless has taught us that successful interventions address the complex issues faced by each individual – such as poor physical and mental health, abuse, substance misuse – along with providing a safe and secure accommodation.
Arlington, our mixed-use flagship hostel in Camden, is a great example of a service that provides person-centred support that recognises the link between traumatic life experiences and homelessness.
The service, inspired by the Times Square scheme pioneered by homeless charity Common Ground in New York, hosts social enterprises and local businesses to create a vibrant environment where customers feel motivated to get back on their feet.
Customers can access art workshops, 1-1 emotional support, and an in-house employment and training services which helps them rebuild their confidence and start their journey to an independent life. Over the past ten years since Arlington opened its doors, we have seen many customers moving on to permanent and secure accommodation.
If we want to end rough sleeping, we need to encourage the partnerships behind this type of services which deliver key multi-disciplinary, targeted support that can effectively break the vicious cycle of homelessness.
We are lucky to have many of those new partnerships in place now, as a result of the health crisis which is still with us. The allocation of £640m a year over the next three years to tackle rough sleeping in the Spending Review is also a unique opportunity to create long term, positive change in the sector.
If we want to apply the lessons from this challenging period, that has sparked so many new ideas, we need to continue to properly support the new partnerships we now have in place. We also need to carefully target the new resources available to fund key services – such as mental health provision, immigration advice and drug services – that can keep people off the streets and help them into a long term home.