Last week we held the third meeting of the Local Government Homelessness Commission at the LGiU office. The focus for this discussion was how councils can find sustainable and secure accommodation for people at risk of homelessness. We heard about the housing first pilot in Liverpool City Region, as well as a new project to access temporary accommodation in London.
There were 79,880 households in temporary accommodation at the end of March 2018, which includes 123,230 children, a 65% increase since 2010. Meanwhile the number of families in B&B style accommodation has more than tripled in the same time period. The Homelessness Reduction Act, which came into force almost a year ago, was designed in part to reduce the pressure on temporary accommodation, which is expensive and in increasingly limited supply.
The situation for accessing temporary accommodation is particularly challenging in London, where the rates of homelessness are above the average for the country as a whole and the housing market is sky high. A smart approach is therefore essential. There are several well-known individual examples to look to across London, the modular units on meanwhile sites in Lewisham being just one. But a partnership between the boroughs will surely be an essential component of joining up and tackling the problem across the city as a whole. And that’s where Capital Letters comes in. Capital Letters is a not-for-profit organisation, which has been set up by London Councils to procure new properties for temporary and other forms of accommodation on behalf of London boroughs collectively.
Mark Baigent came along to the Commission meeting to tell us about the venture, which he is heading. Money has been allocated for the project using top-sliced National Homelessness Support Grant from MHCLG, which totals £33m but is being fed in at performance-related intervals. Procuring temporary accommodation in London is opportunistic and expensive and boroughs often end up looking in other parts of London. Rather than competing with one another and by collaborating, member councils can help to shape the market, use resources effectively, and hopefully help more households to access the shelter they need. The properties Capital Letters accesses are expected to be a mixture of private rented leased directly to households nominated by the council, and properties leased by councils from landlords or from managing agents. By collaborating the risk is pooled and member boroughs will also be able to transfer existing leased properties into Capital Letters, which as a private landlord will be eligible for 100% Local Housing Allowance (LHA). The initial ambition was to have eight boroughs signed up within first year, already there are fourteen.
But accessing secure and sustainable housing is a mission that goes beyond temporary accommodation. We were interested to hear about alternative approaches, and one in particular which is growing in prominence and support across the World. Kate Farrell, strategic adviser on homelessness to the Mayor of Liverpool City Region, told the Commission about the Housing First (HF) pilot that she is leading in LCR.
The fundamental aim of the HF model is to support vulnerable people to find sustainable tenancies in stable properties. From this secure base other services and forms of support can be put into place. During the feasibility study for the pilot in LCR the team found that 379 people in Liverpool had been through four or more placements over four years, while some had been through over ten. This is the HF cohort and the scale shows that the system is not working. The HF cohort is largely made up of people who have been consistently failed by the system as it stands, and Kate argued that we need to understand their stories far better than we currently do, in order to understand how we got to the stage where things were going so wrong for so long, and so that a pilot such as this was needed so badly.
The LCR pilot is a high-fidelity model, meaning it sticks to the key principles of Housing First, demanding a well-trained and supported workforce made up of small teams with low case-loads, each supporting maximum 20 people. They also have a 2nd tier mental health support worker available and provide 24 hour support to give confidence to partners, particularly private landlords.
A huge culture shift is necessary, however, for staff and frontline workers in order to change and flex to the HF principles. Perhaps the most significant shift that is needed is in how we view this kind of homelessness support. It should not be seen as a “homelessness strategy”, but rather as part of a wider and intergrated housing strategy. The problem is that the service has been contracted and monetised in this form for so long and homeless people are regularly separated from housing programmes more generally. People often are or have been housing tenants at some point, and when they come for support they get sent to social services, who are often unable to help.
There are lots of encouraging things going on in local areas to help mitigate the homelessness crisis, and to find ways of preventing it. But without significant investment from the government and a system for sharing the lessons and practices, it is difficult to see how they will be scaled-up to the level of a national strategy. The government’s aim of eliminating rough sleeping by 2027 is important. But rough sleeping is only the tip of the iceberg. Concerted effort, backed up by adequate resources, is necessary to reduce the wider forms of homelessness and to tackle its causes.
The Commission will build on the case studies briefly outlined here, and following our final meeting at the beginning of March we will publish a full report along with a range of good practice and guidance to support local government in building local approaches to ending homelessness.
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