What is homelessness?

Being homeless means not having a home. You are classed as homeless if you have nowhere to live or stay, and are living out on the streets. You can be classed as being homeless if; you are staying with friends or family or are staying in a hostel, bed and breakfast or shelter. More than one in three families are now only 2 pay packets away from becoming homeless, a daunting prospect for many.

“Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Crisis found almost one in 10 people experience homelessness at some point in their life, with one in fifty experiencing it in the last five years.” (The Guardian 2013). Three years on and this figure stills stands, with homelessness set to rise by 76% over the next decade unless long-term action is taken to tackle the problem. Anyone can be at risk of becoming homeless, however you are more at risk if you are: on a low income, are leaving prison, or have no family members or friends (if you are having to live alone). Other issues which can result in becoming homeless are mental health issues, alcohol and substance abuse, relationship breakdown and domestic abuse. Every individual handles stressful and incomprehensible situations within their lives differently. Some may choose to drink, others to seek solace in substance misuse. People do not choose to be homeless, but simply find manners and means of coping. To most it is a form of ‘escapism’.

A total of 4,134 people were counted or estimated by local authorities to be sleeping rough in England on any one night in Autumn 2016, an increase of 16% from 3,569 figure of 2015 (Homeless Link 2017).  The Department for Communities and Local Government has identified Nottingham as being 1 of the top 10 local authorities with the largest increase in the number of rough sleepers in 2016. Nationally in 2016 evictions also rose to a ten-year high, whilst the same period saw 70,000 more repossession claims. Council’s reported a 59% increase in applications for social housing from those evicted from the private sector.  It has led to the average age of death for someone homeless to be just 47 (against mid-70's average in Nottinghamshire), being nine times more likely to commit suicide and, 13 times more likely to be the victim of violence than you or I. 

A new analysis conducted by Crisis (2017) has stated that a total of 159,000 households are living in temporary accommodation or are sleeping rough, marking a rise of almost a third since 2011. It warned that recent reforms including; cuts in housing benefit, the so called bedroom tax, and the chronic lack of affordable housing, are already having an impact, most notably in the Midlands and the north. Nottinghamshire County Council state in their Housing Action Plan that poor housing is the key to determining; "health and wellbeing, throughout our life." The county's latest figures (Homeless Watch 2015), suggest that 509 people are homeless at any one time; 1 in 5 are sleeping rough, 15% had been previously homeless on more than 3 occasions, 37% had mental health issues, 33% alcohol abuse, 31% alcohol misuse, and 31% are ex-offenders.

 

Across the UK many organisations and charities are banding together to tackle the housing crisis. Before homelessness can end, homes are needed-‘prevention rather than cure’. It isn’t just about getting people off of the streets, but finding lasting solutions to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. Organisations such as Shelter, Crisis, Homeless Link and many, many more are looking for structured and realistic ways to achieve this.

One of the fastest-growing reasons for homelessness is when private tenancies come to an end, and people cannot afford to renew their tenancy or find an alternative the report by Crisis has found.  A lot of people are having to try and find temporary accommodation such as hostels, hotels and bed and breakfasts. Some even having to leave their home town just to find somewhere to stay.

The loss of a home can be a challenging and traumatic experience, especially for those with limited financial resources. Joseph Rowntree stated that over 40,000 tenants were evicted from homes by landlords in 2015, and many more felt forced to move from their homes due to affordability, living conditions and landlord disputes.

The housing crisis is being referred to as a "pressure cooker", identifying causes as rising housing costs, and cuts to benefits and services. It warned that reforms introduced earlier this year are already having a devastating impact. The rented sector has grown over the last decade by almost a third, and there has been a surge in the number of tenants being evicted from their homes, with 7,200 more homes lost in 2015 compared with 2003.

Nottinghamshire’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy (2016) states that affordable, suitable, warm, safe and secure homes are essential to a good quality of life, yet almost 90,000 homes in Nottinghamshire do not meet this criteria. In 2012/2013 over 3,000 households reported being at risk of losing their home, or becoming homeless, and this trend in 2017 is increasing rapidly. These experiences place a burden on mental health and wellbeing in particular, and exacerbate existing health conditions. (Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2016). The experience of forced moves and evictions can be extremely stressful for low-income households, especially as they struggle to find an alternative property. Most feel that they are seen as ‘undesirable’ by landlords, and as a result struggle to access social housing.

Since 2002 the government has made homelessness prevention a priority, providing accessible funding to help improve existing homelessness services (such as ourselves). Furthermore, it also requires councils to develop proactive ways and strategies to alleviate homelessness in their area. This year (2017) we saw the introduction of the Homeless Reduction Bill. A bill designed to address issues relating to the current crisis at hand, finding people without a home a suitable property. This new act places a duty on local authorities to help prevent the homelessness of single people and families, regardless of priority need. It is aimed to support those who are eligible for assistance and are threatened by the possibility of becoming homeless (Homeless Link 2017).

National homelessness and housing charity Shelter have warned however that from the outset that if the legislation is to do what it says on the tin and reduce homelessness, councils need national housing policy to work with them. Homes are needed first in order to diminish the level of those sleeping rough. However, Councils have reported difficulties in finding suitable homes for people due to a chronic shortage in social housing. Again, the focus comes back around to providing suitable and affordable housing for those

Recently Prime Minister Theresa may delivered a speech which focused on what measures needed to be  implemented in order to ease the way for local authorities to build more social housing. This comes at a time when the highest number of families in a decade are being forced to live in emergency accommodation across England. The manifesto which was laid out (in June 2017), stated that they plan to provide low cost capital for councils, to enable them to build fixed term social housing that would then be sold privately after 10-15 years with an automatic right to buy for tenants. (The Guardian 2017).

 

At HOPE, we believe that everyone should have the chance to improve their situation, to fulfil their true potential.  Our client group are individuals who have issues that are often complex and interlinked; this could be due to life choices or to suffering abuse as a child.  Whatever the reason, most have low self-esteem (56%), a lack of self-confidence (71%) and a difficulty building normal relationships, which may then result in family breakdown (39%), or mental ill-health (40%).  Individuals may be fine and have a “normal” life until something triggers the chaos – that could be the loss of a job, a relationship breakdown or mounting debt.  The downward spiral can be rapid and extremely debilitating. For those from Eastern Europe, difficulty in communication can compound these issues.

HOPE not only offers a bed for the night, but the support to begin to understand how you have arrived at this point and, most crucially help to begin to turn your life around. Part of this focus is to change behaviour, to introduce positive activities and involvement, to become participative within the local community.  For example, the best way to avoid alcohol or drug misuse is to stay away from the temptation (not to pass the time in a pub or associate with those who supply drugs).  However, that can be easier said than done, if you have nowhere to go, a warm pub can be very inviting. 

Not only is demand increasing, we are also supporting those within the service for longer.  Personal barriers are more acute and the economic climate is much worse for those at the margins of society, than for the general population.

Currently, we have three existing Supported Move-on Properties, which is the main route for residents to progress back towards independence and a place of their own.  We do access private rented accommodation when our own is full, but much of that is of low quality and in poor repair (a massive issue in the midlands and north).

As a charity which believes in allowing individuals to develop their true potential, we provide support and counselling for each resident, designed to help them to deal with the complex and often interlinked issues that has caused them to be in crisis.  We focus on enabling the individual to develop the skills necessary to live independently, alongside tackling their own specific issues and challenges (for example, alcohol or substance misuse, mental ill-health, debt advice, money management and budgeting).

We are also in the transition of renovating our existing headquarters in Worksop into an 8 bedroomed, shared move on accommodation property.  The refurbishment would provide self-contained flats, with ensuite facilities and a small kitchen area.  We certainly have the demand from existing residents, the demand for our services is higher now, than for many years. Inside, the building would be renovated in order to make it fit for purpose as accommodation. 

Overall, we receive around 50% of our funding for rent of our Emergency Accommodation Hostel and Move-On Properties (38 units), primarily through Housing Benefit. 4% is through a contract with Nottinghamshire County Council for preventative services for those at risk of losing their home.

Our vision for the future is to provide more suitable and readily accessible supported Move-On Accommodation, which will help alleviate the current crisis that we’re facing in and around Bassetlaw, and will allow us to support more people who are most in need.