“Giving people a voice in their future”
The last few months have seen increased levels of funding and resource - from Government and the voluntary sector - to support people end their homelessness. The increased political will has seen nearly 15,000 people accommodated in temporary emergency accommodation, some for the first time in decades.
All those involved can rightfully look at this achievement with pride. But as minds turn to decisions around move-on from this emergency accommodation, we need to make a break from the past. For historically, where important decisions have been made around the appropriate housing and support needed for individuals, far too often peoples voices have not been part of those decisions.
This has led to real failure. People have become disenfranchised. People have lost trust in services, community and society. People have not been offered appropriate housing and support that works for them.
We must not make this mistake again. People know what they want. And people know how to navigate options where these are available. People can be trusted.
But instead of listening and trusting, far too often support can label and stigmatise, with well-meaning people projecting what they want on to others, or what they think is best, or what will meet designated outcomes. This does not work.
At Expert Link we believe that the only way to deliver long-term, sustainable reductions in rough sleeping and homelessness is to ensure that people have a real voice in their future. And with nearly 15,000 people provided with emergency accommodation over the last few months, that is 15,000 people who need to be listened too so that good decisions are made.
However, we have concerns that peoples voices are not being heard, that people aren’t having a say in their future. And we want to change this.
Over the last few weeks we reached out to over 100 people accommodated through measures taken by the Government in response to COVID-19, allowing us to gain a snapshot of what it is that people want. This was not intended as a systemic or representative exercise, but as a way of giving over 100 people a chance to share their views. And although social distancing provided challenges, with the efforts of our network (including many who have experienced multiple disadvantages) we were able to reach people and find out some key headlines. We thank everyone for supporting us with their time.
1) Rough sleeping is not a lifestyle choice
There is a narrative too often heard that rough sleeping is a lifestyle choice. However, this was clearly not the case for those we engaged with. Although a very large number of people we contacted in hotels and B n B’s had been rough sleeping in February, only one person indicated they would want to return to rough sleeping. It is clear that if the appropriate offer is made to people, people can leave the streets and thrive. To not do so is a failure of the systems, not the individual.
2) The emergency accommodation offer worked for many people
Over half of the people we engaged with rated their emergency accommodation highly, particularly those in hotels. This is a clear indication that the offer of emergency accommodation was better than that individuals received previously - which was either an offer which did not meet their needs, or an offer relating to re-connections..
Importantly, nearly three-quarters of people we reached who went to areas that they wanted to rated the accommodation four out of five stars, though very few who went somewhere they did not want to gave this rating. Location, therefore, seems to have been a key factor in what works for people.
What was it about the offer that worked for people? Anecdotally, we have heard that it was not the fear of COVID-19 that incentivised people to take up offers, but that people did not have to ‘jump through hoops,’ or ‘adhere to contacts with key workers.’ And we know that service delivery changed during through the crisis – with emphasis to ensure public health by keeping people socially distanced and in accommodation, some providers have seen welcome adaptations to their delivery models.
3) People want to move on to their own flat/house
Given the size of this opportunity, the issue of “what happens next?” is absolutely crucial. We therefore asked people what sort of accommodation people wanted to move-on to, either now or when the hotel offer finished. Overwhelmingly people indicated they wanted their own flat.
This may seem unsurprising to many, but there is clear significance here. People do not want to return to rough sleeping. People do not want to remain permanently in a hostel or other homelessness accommodation. There may be a role for these in the way people are supported, but they should not be considered a final outcome, which is regretfully the case in some areas. People have aspirations for a home.
Will the opportunities created by this unique opportunity be utilised to permanently reduce rough sleeping? If they do, it is clear that a few things need to happen.
Interim measures must not simply reflect historic responses to homelessness, which whilst providing invaluable services, clearly do not work for everybody. And a tangible offer needs to be made for those of us who do not have access to benefits, for whom no current longer-term options seem viable
And critically, discussions need to be had with people to find out why some accommodation responses have been met with greater levels of approval than others, so that a clear plan for the future can be made. Those who have experienced homelessness must have a huge role in achieving this.