Today sees a formal announcement by Crisis and the Liverpool City Region (LCR) Mayor Steve Rotheram of the first large scale Housing First policy in the UK. Regrettably this is doomed to fail as the composition of the social landlord housing stock across the LCR area is entirely unsuitable for the Housing First model.
I have explained why it is unsuitable here in some detail on my SPeye Joe ordpress site but essentially because all six councils that make up the LCR area have a pitifully low level of the necessary 1 bed properties for Housing First to work. The English national average is 28.2% and still we have a chronic shortage of 1 bed properties as the bedroom tax policy reveals while the average 1 bed percentage across the LCR area is barely half this English average figure at 15% with a range of 12.41% in St Helens up to 16.72% in Knowsley.
Having worked in homelessness for over two decades from a casual or relief hostel worker position whilst at university to advising literally scores of homeless hostel providers on a national basis as a consultant and all positions in between, I write as an acknowledged expert in this area and I passionately love working in homelessness and want to see radical change such as Housing First and other policies adopted within it. So it is with sadness that I say this Crisis / LCR proposal is doomed and the proposal and policy is built on sand given the acute shortage of suitable properties in the LCR area.
The will is there to change and often that is the critical factor especially for perceived undeserving NIMBY client groups such as single homeless yet it counts for nought when the even more critical component of suitable properties is just not there. Despite the admirable intentions and the best efforts of the good research that has gone into this – 141 pages in the full report – that too counts for nothing given the lack of suitable properties in the LCR area.
Despite the political will, however prescient and ignoring that the LCR Mayor has little real powers in this arena which still remain with each local authority within the LCR umbrella, the proposal is doomed to fail due to a lack of suitable properties.
Even if enough suitable properties could magically appear out of the ether this proposal would be difficult and challenging and would probably fail too because of what homelessness is – an extremely complex and volatile sector with many different nuances from one place to the next and costly and time-consuming just to contain the problems that the state of being homeless causes let alone solve them.
Homelessness is de facto about people and not about bricks and mortar or ‘units’ or any other such term and each homeless case is different and individual. Homelessness does not lend itself to generic or quick fixes nor can it hold sway as it did throughout the Supporting People era post 2003 that a large part of homelessness support can be generic. Homelessness can never be ‘solved’ by an attitude of here is £x of money do the best you can with that; it needs much greater involvement than that and enough funding to allow the best quality of service needed for the hugely complex issues, often interrelated issues, that arise in every homeless case.
Even then I doubt that homelessness can be solved as it is not and never will be a simple or even definable issue. By definition and experience homelessness is an inordinately complex and highly nuanced area.
Rough sleeping is a tiny part of homelessness, a subset if you will that sees around 4600 sleep rough while 37000 or so live in temporary homeless hostels. Using those figures rough sleeping comprises 10% or so of single homelessness, yet is the most publicly visible.
Being homeless is not being roofless either it is so so much more than that … and then domestic abuse is often seen (wrongly) as a subset of homelessness while more correctly homelessness is an inevitable consequence and symptom of domestic abuse.
While we have such subjective views on what is and is not homelessness – and the above merely details professionals differing viewpoints not the general public’s perception or the politicians view – we can never solve it as we can’t fully define what the hell we wish to solve! We haven’t even got to the Hello, my name is Joe and I’m an alcoholic stage yet despite being 50 years since Cathy Come Home thrust homelessness onto the national agenda. If you can’t define the problem in 50 bloody years then how the hell can you solve it?!
We have too many of the usual suspects making homelessness a profession and they all tend to concentrate on top down services such as starting from the problems that homelessness causes (!!) for governments central and local and not approach homelessness from the bottom up. I could draft a PhD length thesis on that point alone but what I mean by that is essentially (a) what works works and (b) what works costs far less in the end as it is done right first time.
Housing First is radical in comparison to what the existing system is, yet what we need to even attempt to solve homelessness is a Person First approach. Sure, no doubt that allocating bricks and mortar unconditionally of addressing support needs is better than we now have, yet it needs to go 10 times further to get anywhere near solving what the state of homelessness does and creates and costs.
In my time working on the front line of homelessness I had many heated discussions with my then higher ups. They centred on my view that the better quality provision you give to a person who is homeless (a) the more they respect that property and (b) the much greater they ‘engage’ and address their support needs. It always worked yet point (a) was almost anathema to the social landlord who had a predetermined and false position of risk, and point (b) become just another victim of the SP regime as commissioners treated those who needed support as mere units of costs in their frenzy to adopt the here’s all the money your getting position of the bean counter.
Such negative approaches do not work and we have decades long proof of those pejorative starting points as failure and commissioners and landlords make the same mistakes over and over again with this prejudicial mindset.
Of course it doesn’t help that all local councils as commissioners have to balance the books and only see all supported housing costs in the immediate short term for support and shortly we will have central government doing this with housing benefit with the LHA Maxima Cap; both are short termism writ large and lead to greater homeless need and longer term higher cost as the classic example of decimating and all but eradicating funding from PREVENTATIVE support services from 2009 onwards with the SP ringfence removal has no led to the social care crisis we see today of horrific added costs than before.
[Yes that does blame the last Labour lot for today’s social care funding crisis and correctly so!]
Homelessness has its own unique set of support and costs needs as every accommodation based support has for each very different client group and does deserve to be viewed in that correct dimension and with the same level of specialism and deservability that commissioners view domestic abuse for example, yet that is a huge cultural change, a seismic one that is unlikely ever to happen, yet until it does and we actually define what ‘homelessness’ is and from the bottom up, we will never solve the problems it is said to cause…