The passing of the Homelessness Reduction Act and injections of cash into prevention models across the country have ensured that the work of the East London No First Night Out project continues to be timely and relevant.
Conference panel agrees: Systemic, structural prevention strategy needed to end homelessness
My first experience of Under One Roof did not disappoint. There was a real energy as hundreds of our members and other professionals from across the homelessness and supported housing sectors came together at our annual conference on 4 and 5 July, to share innovative approaches, policy updates and insights into the future of service provision.
The opening keynote speeches and discussion focussed on understanding and tackling homelessness in today’s tough external environment.
Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Director of Institute (ISPHERE) at Heriot Watt University, presented interesting evidence on the risk factors for homelessness, emphasising that homelessness is not entirely random, but is closely linked to structural issues of childhood poverty and geographical concentration of severe and multiple deprivation.
Her findings that the rise in homelessness in England since 2010 is directly linked to government policy decisions, a tight housing market and the weakening of the welfare safety net unsurprisingly led to a murmur of assent among the delegates and created noise on social media. Suzanne concluded – and the rest of the panel strongly agreed – that the country needs structural, systemic and targeted early prevention to tackle homelessness.
Housing First lessons from Finland
Recognising Housing First as a crucial intervention for helping to confine homelessness to the history books, our Housing First England project is leading on driving the roll-out of this approach across the country. It was therefore exciting to welcome and hear the insights of Juha Kaakinen, Chief Executive of the Y-Foundation, which is a key partner in the provision of Housing First accommodation and support in Finland, where the model is integral to the national homelessness strategy.
Juha explained that homelessness in Finland is made possible due to local and national commitment, the allocation of adequate funding and a partnership between state and local authorities and non-government organisations. Housing is viewed as a basic human and social right and providing independent accommodation through Housing First has helped drastically reduce rough sleeping. In Helsinki, the number of independent rental apartments have risen from 65 in 1985 to 2,433 in 2016, while hostel places have fallen.
Voluntary sector resilience
Returning to what is going on here in the UK, the panel also discussed the state of the voluntary sector. At Homeless Link we are clear that, despite the difficult financial and political environment, our members are continuing to achieve great things. It was encouraging to hear this backed up by Karl Wilding, of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, who spoke about the resilience of the charity sector and its continued impact on communities in the face of limited resources.
The conference masterclasses and additional keynote plenaries saw a wide variety of topics covered, good practice shared and new inspiration gathered, from emerging initiatives to operating in the current policy environment. Here are a few of the highlights that I managed to catch:
No First Night Out - We know that more needs to be done to prevent people from becoming homeless, and this is what the No First Night Out initiative in the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Hackney and the City aims to do. Working with local partners including libraries and job centres, the dedicated team are aiding vulnerable people at risk of homelessness before they first rough sleep to ensure their resilience is retained and they stay off the streets.
Supporting LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness - Stonewall Housing ran an informative session on providing flexible and responsive services centred on the needs of young LGBTQ+ people, and the support and advice needed to prevent homelessness or rough sleeping among this group. It brought home the need for services to be clear that they welcome LGBTQ+ people, will not make assumptions about individuals and can meet a range of basic needs.
Exploring the Critical Time Intervention approach - Two of our Transatlantic Practice Exchange participants shared their learning around this American model, which provides time-limited and structured support for vulnerable people at transitionary periods of their lives, such as leaving prison. SHP and Changing Lives will explore piloting the approach in their services; this type of innovation is the essence of what Homeless Link hopes to facilitate.
Honourable mentions go to the Whose Line is it Anyway-style quick-fire question and answer session on homelessness from six CEOs, and the Streetwise Opera, who brought the productive two days’ proceedings to a close, with a fun and impressive performance.
Overall, I was struck anew with the dedication and passion of our members to make a real difference in the lives of the people that they support. I am already looking forward to next year’s event – believe it or not, the planning for it begins now!
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Louise is the communications manager at Homeless Link.
0207 840 4427