Around 3.5 million households in England have some form of housing need, including around 250,000 households experiencing the trauma of homelessness.
The coronavirus crisis has now put more people at risk of homelessness and rough sleeping, many for the first time, including young people and people who have lost employment, experienced domestic abuse or left institutions without a home to go to. On top of this, the blow to the economy means a further spike in homelessness is a real risk, unless safeguards are put in place and renters’ income is secured.
Rising homelessness means that both the number of households in temporary accommodation and the length of time they are forced to stay there is increasing. There were 93,000 households in temporary accommodation in England at the end of March 2020, the highest figure since December 2006, including 129,380 children. Families in temporary accommodation are separated from their support networks and school or employment, and can suffer poorer health.
It does not have to be this way. A heroic, cross-sector effort virtually ended rough sleeping overnight at the beginning of lockdown. The impossible became possible and we were shown what can happen with enough determination and funding. The government provided £3.2 million for local authorities to accommodate everyone sleeping rough and 14,610 rough sleepers have since been brought into accommodation.
It is encouraging to see this commitment continue with £433 million to deliver 6,000 long-term homes for rough sleepers and £105 million for interim accommodation and support. Housing associations have worked with the government to provide homes for people moving on from temporary accommodation such as rough sleepers and people leaving refuges. This focus on move-on and commitment to tackle homelessness must remain as the crisis continues.
This week is the Homes at the Heart campaign’s Settled Futures week, where we’re raising awareness of the challenges of homelessness and calling for action to prevent it.
Together with our partners and supporters, we’re asking for investment in homelessness prevention measures including increasing the supply of social housing, initiatives to help people find and keep jobs and funding supported housing, so that everyone can live in a settled home.
We are also showing the different ways in which housing associations can help people move into a settled home and showcasing the vital support services that housing associations can provide that contribute to homelessness prevention.
Housing associations are ready to work with the government to make ending homelessness a reality. In our submission to the planned Comprehensive Spending Review, we’ve set out the action the government should take to help the sector do this.
One key step is using social housebuilding as a homelessness prevention tool. By investing in homes for social rent and housing-related support, the government can also extend its commitment that everyone who is rough sleeping or at risk will be supported into sustainable and affordable housing beyond the Next Steps Accommodation Programme.
In the longer term, we need to see investment to build the next generation of affordable housing the country needs, in the form of a £32bn housing programme over the next ten years.
Finally, the government must commit to long-term funding for support services for homelessness prevention and tenancy sustainment.
As well as being the right thing to do, this ambitious plan would also make good economic sense. It is more cost-effective to invest in building the social housing we need and providing support to prevent homelessness than to pay for costly, acute services like temporary accommodation and emergency health services.
With the right action from the government and the will of the housing association sector, we can end homelessness, save the taxpayer money, and change lives.