Jon Sparkes asks for support to end homelessness in Wales, and Britain
As Chief Executive of Crisis, the national charity for homeless people, I am determined to see homelessness ended right across Wales, England and Scotland. I am also clear that we cannot do this alone, and we need your support to make this happen.
This year marks Crisis’ 50th anniversary and, far from being a moment of celebration, I see it as a moment to reflect on the fact that we are still here and still needed by thousands of people facing homelessness. We actually thought very carefully about whether to mark this anniversary at all. In the end we decided that the best way to spend our anniversary year is to look forwards to a time when homelessness is no longer with us and organisations like Crisis are no longer needed.
While Crisis has worked with local authorities and other partners in Wales for years, Crisis set up a multidisciplinary ‘Skylight’ team to deliver direct face-to-face services for homeless people based in south Wales around a year ago. This followed more than a year of consultation with existing organisations to establish a gap that needed filling in the Swansea City Region and across south Wales.
Earlier this year we formally established a policy operation, to work closely with Welsh decision-makers and our campaign partners on achieving further national changes to government policy to help end homelessness in Wales for good. Today Crisis is holding its first national policy conference for Wales in Cardiff. It is called ‘Ending Homeless: what should change next?’ and you can follow the conference throughout the day using #crisisconf.
The backdrop to the conference is that homelessness is very much still with us. At the end of last year almost 2,600 households were known by local authorities in Wales to be homeless. By all accounts the number of people sleeping rough in Wales has also gone up, according to figures from the frontline. In Cardiff alone the official figures show a 77% rise in rough sleeping in the year to November 2016.
Over the course of this year Crisis will put together a long-term plan to end homelessness across the nations of Britain, including a specific plan for Wales. We will need to answer the big questions of how different elements of homelessness can be prevented or solved. We will also seek the political commitment, the policies, service interventions, and changes in public response to homelessness that have the best evidence of success. This can only be done by working in partnership and by deferring to the expertise of others.
Clearly it is not within our gift to prevent some of the triggers of homelessness, like relationships breaking down or people losing their jobs, but what we do know is that there is not a homeless person whose situation cannot be resolved with the right support. We have access to a wealth of evidence on what works.
Homelessness takes many forms, including on Wales’ streets, on the sofas of friends and family, in squats, or in unsuitable temporary accommodation. We know from recent memory that rough sleeping can be dramatically reduced if there is the political will and the resources. Looking further afield we now see cities and countries in Europe and north America that have actually ended different forms of homelessness.
Wales has a lot in its favour when it comes to preventing and ending homelessness. The Welsh Assembly has growing powers to use that can help end homelessness for good. These powers were put to good use by passing the Housing Act 2014, a pioneering piece of human rights law that put duties on local authorities to prevent homelessness. The Welsh Government has committed to increase the supply of affordable homes by 2021.
Wales, of course, does not exist in a political vacuum. The General Election result in June will affect the future policy direction of the UK Government in reserved areas that will affect Wales, such as welfare, the housing market and, of course, all the issues related to exiting the EU. For our part, at Crisis, whoever wins the election and forms the UK Government, we will work with other organisations to monitor (and challenge if necessary) any policy choices in reserved areas that affect homelessness.
Political commitment to ending homelessness is a crucial step to making it happen. The leaders of all three governments in Britain sent messages of support for ending homelessness, and Carwyn Jones said the Welsh Government is “determined to end rough sleeping and all forms of homelessness”.
Of course, ending homelessness is not going to be easy but I am optimistic that we can end homelessness for good, if we pool our expertise and efforts. Crisis would like to work with you on ending homelessness and you can register your interest on the Crisis website. You can also join our #EverybodyIn campaign and find out how you be a part of our work this year – to make a plan to end homelessness in Wales and Britain once and for all.