The new government’s approach to tackling homelessness must reflect the diversity of England’s communities

Rory Weal, 04 July 2024

This election campaign has seen politicians tour the length and breadth of the country, in search of opportunities to speak to voters and put across their vision for the nation. 

The images of leaders making speeches and knocking doors, from the largest cities to the smallest villages, reveals the diversity and variety of our communities. If we are alive to these differences, we can design policies which work for everyone.  

That is precisely why we established the Rural Homelessness Counts coalition, which marked its first anniversary this week. The coalition – which brings together homelessness charities, rural bodies, and housing associations – has worked to raise awareness of the realities facing rural communities grappling with the housing and homelessness crisis, which shows no signs of waning.  

This election takes place at a time of immense hardship facing record numbers of people across the country. For too many this means the injustice of having no place to call home. Each of the major parties has committed in their manifestos to some form of action to tackling rough sleeping and homelessness. 

Rural areas are far from exempt from the rising tide of homelessness. In many cases experience the effects of high housing costs, low wages, and fragmented and under-funded services particularly acutely. But we know that our communities have strengths which we can build upon. By empowering communities to prioritise inclusion and tackle social problems together, we can ensure no one is homeless or left behind. 

Our work with the Local Government Association revealed the excellent steps already being taken in some rural areas that could be replicated across the country if the political will were there. For example, New Forest District Council has broken down silos by embedding a mental health nurse in their homelessness team, recognising the wraparound support people need in dispersed rural environments. By treating mental health and housing holistically, their combined approach saves time and money while providing better outcomes for people experiencing homelessness. 

We know that rural homelessness is often hidden and that our current measures of need significantly underestimate the scale of the problem. That’s why practices such as the Women’s Rough Sleeping Census are so important – they have been able to identify hidden instances of rough sleeping more effectively than existing forms of data collection. This opens up new ways to spot and respond to hidden homelessness in rural areas – something that can benefit everyone without a place to call home. But we also know that none of these efforts will end homelessness until we build far more genuinely affordable housing in rural communities. 

One year on from the founding of the coalition, we understand the problems better and also many of the solutions. If we are to continue to drive forward expanded best practices in rural areas, we need collaboration and communities coming together. That is why we are pleased to announce the launch of a new Rural Homelessness Community of Practice, in partnership with Homeless Link.  

This six-part series will bring together a broad range of individuals working to tackle rural homelessness and rough sleeping, providing a platform for sharing challenges, promoting best practices, and exploring innovative ways to support those experiencing homelessness in the countryside. Anyone working as part of the effort to tackle rural homelessness is welcome – homelessness services, housing associations, rural housing enablers, local businesses, people with lived experience, and community and voluntary groups. 

Regardless of who wins the election this Thursday, we stand prepared and united in our mission to end homelessness in every community across the country.