An end to rough sleeping?
About 4000-5000 people are sleeping rough at any one time in England and they are just some of the people experiencing homelessness. Churches are very aware of rough sleepers, particularly in our cities. See our research here.
I was at an event recently which saw the launch of a new report ‘Housing First’ by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). Although it has 38 policy recommendations spanning the whole housing sector from prevention to access, the overall message is that ‘ending rough sleeping is a matter of political will’.
The report highlights the success of Housing First – an initiative used in the USA, Finland, Denmark and other European countries. Overwhelming evidence has built up to support the use of Housing First, which provides stable, independent homes alongside coordinated, wrap-around, personalised support to homeless people with multiple and complex needs. As reported at the event, "Finland have pretty well eradicated rough sleeping". Although there is a cost at first – CSJ estimate £110M, the proposition is cost neutral over the life of a Parliament due to savings on other agencies e.g. police, courts, prison.
The launch event heard from Wayne Craft who is 54 years old. He left the army with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) aged 22. He ended up on the streets and started to drink heavily to self-medicate for his mental health issues, and ended up addicted to crack and heroin.
To fund his habit, he started prolifically shop lifting. When Fulfilling Lives Islington and Camden met him two years ago, he had been street homeless for 30 years and had served around 50 custodial sentences. Outreach teams had approached him over the years but they could only offer him accommodation in a homeless hostel.
Wayne told those present, including Rt. Hon. Sajid Javid MP the secretary of state for communities and local government, how being given a home and the support to get clean from his addiction, under the Housing First model, had changed his life.
As Wayne said, "Being given a home is an amazing feeling. An NI number shows you exist. A postcode shows you belong. In prison I was offered lots of opportunities; rehab, college, etc., but never a home. I just kept re-offending as I wanted to get back to prison and 3 meals a day, TV, etc. Now I have self-esteem and dignity. The thought of losing my home is a real deterrent."
Sajid Javid, the Minister with responsibility for homelessness, has confirmed he is interested in adopting a Housing First programme in the UK. He acknowledged the importance of the report, Wayne’s experience and the Housing First model. He will be travelling to Finland shortly to see it first-hand.
Download the report here.
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Geoff Knott, 28/03/2017