Today the government has announced as part of its Rough Sleeping Strategy that it will be making £100m available to stem the rising tide of rough sleeping across England – which has increased substantially since 2009 - and that it aims to eradicate rough sleeping by 2027.
Communities Secretary, James Brokenshire MP, has stated that half of the fund is being made up from pre-existing funds whilst the other half has been reallocated from other departments.
The government has stated that £30m of the fund will be dedicated towards treating mental illness and those with substance abuse issues. £50m of the fund will be directed towards increasing the availability of accommodation outside of London for people who are ready to move from hostels or refuges into settled accommodation.
It has also been reported that the government is expected to review the Vagrancy Act which currently makes it illegal to sleep rough or beg in England and Wales.
A wider approach
The government’s announcement is a step in the right direction.
But, if it is serious about reaching its 2027 target then it will have to employ a holistic approach.
Reforming current Local Authority practice and eligibility criteria for rough sleepers to access social housing or support to rent in the private sector will be crucial. However, this won’t be possible without sustained funding to increase social housing stock across the country, as well as greater investment in supported housing for those with complex needs.
Continued austerity has seen Local Authority budgets slashed. This will have to be reversed in order to diminish the incentive for Local Authorities to unfairly seek recourse to ‘intentionality’ in order to relieve service pressure.
The private rented sector will also require reform. Tenants need greater protection from unfair eviction whilst rogue landlords need to be subject to greater sanctions if they evict tenants without following formal eviction procedures. This has been another key factor in many rough sleepers being deemed ‘intentionally homeless’.
The NHS will also require greater financial support than it is currently receiving in order to ensure mental health can be treated on a par with physical health. However, this is only part of the solution.
The government will also have to lead on ensuring that the NHS can work effectively in partnership with other organisations to deliver care on a joined-up basis. This would help reduce the number of mentally ill and homeless inpatients being discharged into inappropriate settings. And, in some cases, being discharged without access to any support networks.
Likewise, the government will have to subject its recent reforms to Housing Benefit to review.
Prevention won’t work without resources
A 2016 study by St Mungo’s found that between 40-50% of those sleeping on the streets suffer from either one or multiple mental illnesses. Many charities also report that those suffering from mental illnesses who are sleeping rough tend to have been subject to some form of early years trauma. These illness are also regularly compounded by the issues of alcohol and drug dependency as a form of self-medication.
Consequently, whilst the government is right to direct funds towards tackling these issues. It will also need to recognise that its emphasis on a preventative approach to reducing rough sleeping won’t work if it fails to allocate resources to social services who can ensure that those who are at risk from a young age receive the appropriate support.
To reach its target the government will have to navigate this complex terrain. Many of these issues are just the tip of the iceberg.
Failing to reverse austerity will undermine the government’s intentions from the get go. It will need to reconsider its current approach to policy which has been part of the very issue it now seeks to redress.