The government has an opportunity to meet its manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping

Steve Douglas Chief Executive of St Mungo's
Steve Douglas Chief Executive of St Mungo's

Steve Douglas CBE, 21 September 2020

I have worked in housing for a long time, but in my new role as Chief Executive of St Mungo’s I’ve seen up close the specialist one-to-one support that is so crucial to preventing homelessness and helping people to recover from it.

The scourge of homelessness is sadly still ever present, and can affect people and families from different backgrounds and life experiences. From those with complex needs, to those who have just found themselves unemployed, faced a personal or relationship crisis, or just can’t afford a home, and have nowhere to stay.

Services such as supported housing, Housing First and ‘floating’ tenancy support are proven to prevent repeat homelessness and can stop people at risk of homelessness ending up on the street.

Of course, without the right funding, these vital services cannot support all those who need them. That’s why I am really pleased to see the case for investment in this support being made as part of the Homes at the Heart campaign.

While the pandemic has resulted in economic turbulence and potentially put a greater number of people at risk of homelessness, it has also proved what can change when we work together and homelessness is made a priority.

We now have a unique opportunity to end rough sleeping for good, and for the nearly 3,000 people we have helped off the streets during the pandemic, a home for good does not need to be as far from their grasp as many previously believed.

The success of the government’s response to rough sleeping during the height of the coronavirus crisis through the ‘everyone in’ initiative should not be understated.

Since the onset of the pandemic, St Mungo’s, like other housing associations, and homelessness charities, has worked with partners in government, local government and the health sector to support thousands of people in empty hotels, and helped hundreds of those people to move into a new home. At its height we were managing 15 hotels across our areas of operation and have supported 2,914 people, double the number we would normally be supporting in accommodation every night. We’ve also helped over 1,000 people move into longer-term housing. There is no doubt that these interventions saved many lives.

The government’s Next Steps Accommodation Programme is now an important step towards securing longer-term solutions for those who have faced homelessness and ensuring there is no going back to our pre-pandemic world. We're really pleased to see dedicated funding for both homes and support over a four year period. It is a recognition that homes, with the support and advice when needed, are the right approach.

However, there is more to be done to ensure the right services are funded sufficiently in the long term. Research by WPI Economics for St Mungo’s found that, since 2008, nearly £1 billion has been cut from what councils spend on homelessness services every year.

This funding should be restored and services fully resourced to address all of the support needs of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

This means having substance use and mental health workers who can help people to access the healthcare they need, and providing more women-only accommodation services. It means more Housing First services , and reinstating floating tenancy support services to help people at risk of homelessness to manage their tenancy on an ongoing basis – not only when they are faced with eviction.

The crisis is not over for our clients, but we now face a unique opportunity to change things for good.

There is a consensus that the government can build on the success of ‘everyone in’ and use the Spending Review to invest in services that help prevent further homelessness. Ultimately this investment would also deliver financial benefits, by reducing the pressure on other parts of the public sector, especially health services.

Crucially, it will help the government meet its manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping and its ambitions to prevent homelessness. We know that these goals are achievable with the right focus on helping everyone to find a home for good, and the support they need to keep it.

Homes at the Heart

Our homes have never been more important to us than they have been during the coronavirus crisis. For some people, home has been a sanctuary. For others, it has been a prison. Everyone deserves a safe, secure, comfortable place to call home. Not just now, in the middle of this crisis, but always. 

Investing in social housing makes this possible. It will also boost the economy, create jobs and improve people’s lives when our nation needs it most.

That’s why we’ve launched Homes at the Heart, a national campaign and coalition calling for a once-in-a-generation investment in social housing.