Homelessness can be prevented if the Welsh Government and housing associations continue to work together, writes Will Atkinson.
We’ve had our Kennedy moment in Wales. Under the leadership of Julie James, the Minister for Housing and Local Government, we’ve committed to end homelessness, and to make serious progress within the next decade. So what makes this different to the plethora of decadal homelessness strategies laid out over the past fifty or so years?
The approach laid out in the recently published Welsh Government strategy to end homelessness may on the surface appear like many of its predecessors, but for two crucial parts.
- It lays out an approach which will be reviewed and re-set annually. This will maintain momentum and is a significant change from strategies aiming to tackle homelessness within a decade, but inevitably coming up short.
- The approach is fundamentally cross-public sector. The Minister has explicitly made ending homelessness the responsibility of every section of government.
This new leadership is supported by the work of the Homelessness Action Group (HAG), convened by the Minister. The Group brings together homelessness experts, housing associations, local government, support providers and public services to develop concrete actions to be taken in the short and medium term to prevent and relieve homelessness.
The first report of the HAG lays out immediate actions to be taken to begin the journey towards making homelessness rare, brief and non-recurrent and draws attention to the different iterations of homelessness including people living in temporary accommodation and sofa surfing. But most importantly, immediate action has begun across Wales, on the back of this report, to reduce the risk of people sleeping rough this Winter.
Welsh Government is putting its money where its mouth is and injecting funding into assertive outreach services on the ground to support people off the streets. Housing associations are increasing resources in this area too, making homes available to those in critical need to ensure that more than short-term accommodation is on offer.
The role of housing associations in preventing homelessness is critical. Our members provide half of the supported accommodation in Wales, but their contribution goes far beyond this. To end homelessness, we need affordable, safe, long-term homes available to those at risk of, or experiencing homelessness. This is where housing associations step in.
A significant proportion of association homes are let to people who are homeless or at imminent risk. In Newport, where housing associations provide the totality of social housing, nearly half of all homes are let to people in these positions, through effective partnership between local housing associations and the council. This work is vital, but how do we prevent people losing their homes in the first place?
The use of Psychologically Informed Environments (PIE) and trauma informed approaches is becoming mainstream in support work. This is mainly down to the excellent work of Welsh Government and partners in tackling Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
This evidence-based approach is bringing housing related support into the 21st Century, focussing not on the symptoms of trauma (i.e behaviour) but the reasons behind it. PIE provides a framework to avoid focusing on the immediate behaviour of a tenant, and instead puts the focus on addressing the cause.
We are building on the early successes of trauma informed approaches in support, and applying them to housing management, to reduce and address the issues that can lead to eviction. Early adopters of the approach have seen their eviction rates fall by as much as 75%, and from a low base.
The number of evictions from social housing are low, half the rate seen a decade ago, but we must do more to keep people in their homes. Housing associations and councils have laid out an ambitious plan to do this. We will end evictions into homelessness from social housing.
Building a system where no one becomes homeless following eviction from housing association or council homes cannot be achieved by landlords alone. We need to build a partnership of equals between HAs, councils, NHS, support providers, police and other public services, with shared responsibility for outcomes. Through this, and by applying a holistic, psychologically informed approach, can we ensure that public services across the board are not only relieving, but fully preventing homelessness.
All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.