As noted elsewhere, the aim of homelessness services is generally to help people find, set up and manage a home of their own. That is what people mostly tell us they want and it has to be what services work for. It may be that some people need support even once they have a home and are settled or they may not; but if they do, services should work with them on that basis.
Equally, it may be that people arrive in their own accommodation after a period in temporary housing. But the focus on helping people work out what they want and be able to secure it for themselves should be paramount. It should underpin all we do.
Most people using services will therefore ultimately go into tenancies, renting properties or rooms from landlords. The landlords may be private or social (housing associations or, in some cases, councils) but generally people will have tenancies where they pay rent for a room, flat or house. What people can afford will, of course, depend on their income.
There tend to be specific things that people need to secure a place of their own:
Many people in society have the resources when they need accommodation to go on-line, search for options and arrange to view them, with the necessary money in place, whether saved or borrowed. Others do not have those resources and so may need help finding suitable accommodation, as well as putting together the package necessary for securing it, as above.
An important issue is often affordability: people may need accommodation that is rented at the amount allowed for by their benefits (or other income). Homelessness services, such as us at Path, may have links with landlords more likely to have affordable accommodation and may also be able to provide support to look at ways to find some of the necessary funds.
For people with other issues, such as addiction or mental health problems, other services they use may be able to do some of that or link them with services that can. It’s important not to pretend that having one’s own accommodation solves every issue; but it does provide the safety and security that most of us consider vital.
So, whatever steps people may take to get there, services should always be helping people move towards and into their own accommodation, with the responsibilities but also all the benefits that brings. And areas need to have services to enable that, such as private rented access schemes, with a range of support relevant to people’s individual needs.
That’s when we end homelessness, one person or household at a time.
Homelessness can be said to be many things. There are huge links with poverty, with mental ill-health and addiction but people who are homeless vary as to who and where they are. Some people will have been given notice to leave a tenancy and need support to get another, some will be leaving institutions and have nowhere to go, some will be street homeless. Their lives, their journeys and their needs will vary significantly. But what they and homelessness services want for them is a home of their own.
There can be different roads to that home for each person, some having time in temporary accommodation first. That may be ‘low support’, such as temporary shared housing, or may be in a hostel or equivalent. That will depend on the person’s needs and the availability of settled accommodation.
Why have temporary accommodation?
The role of temporary accommodation (‘temp’) is to provide more immediate access to housing for people, as finding somewhere more permanent can take time and resources. If people need somewhere to live quickly, then there may be services able to provide temp.
As well as speed / access, temp can provide other things. We can presume that everyone knows what they want and are entitled to; but that’s not always the case. Some people find temp useful as a place and period where they can decide what they want, whether – for instance – they wish to move into more permanent shared housing, if so where and with whom, whether they wish to stay in the City and / or whether there may be options with people they know. It also provides, for some, a breathing space, sometimes enabling people to open up about issues they are getting ready to address.
So, people have a chance to look at what they want and what may be available, perhaps to talk to friends and family and see what may be best. They should also have the opportunity – with support – to sort out their finances and other plans. That may well include looking at how to secure money for a deposit and / or rent in advance for when they move on, along with money for living essentials. For many people, moving into a tenancy is a big and sometimes expensive step.
Temp also, crucially, provides people with experience of living in shared housing in a relatively safe / supported environment. It gives people a chance to try living in shared accommodation (most temp is shared) and to do so in an environment where support is available, with on-site or via visits. That support, and having a flexible and understanding landlord, can be vital. But it also means that people can gain a housing reference, something many landlords want from people.
It’s important that temporary accommodation is therefore:
That means that temporary accommodation gives people who haven’t got anywhere else somewhere to stay, with time and support to sort things out before they move – we hope – into something more permanent.
In some ways, the Coronavirus crisis has changed everything. You could say that it’s forced people, organisations and governments to re-prioritise, to do many things differently, less of other things and much more of what’s needed most right now.
With homelessness, the implications are profound. On one hand, we need to not move people around, to minimise physical contact and keep people inside. Hence the government preventing people from losing their tenancies for three months: we need people to stay where they are.
For people vulnerable to homelessness that may mean getting support to remain in their accommodation, to sort out finances and other needs and to cope with this difficult time. If people are in tenancies, that’s ideal; if they’re in temporary accommodation, it means it’s suddenly less temporary.
Ordinarily services would want to support people into temporary accommodation and out again into somewhere of their own fairly quickly, freeing up that temporary place for someone else. (That’s when people stop being homeless, when they have a place of their own.) But right now that’s harder as we shouldn’t be moving people unless it’s vital. That means that many people in accommodation are staying there. They’ve got somewhere to be and it should be safe.
But it also means that those temporary places are no longer available for ‘new’ people, at the same time when many landlords and agents are understandably following the same advice and not moving people in and out of settled accommodation (tenancies). So, for people who are homeless and don’t have anywhere to stay, there’s much less accommodation available.
The government has rightly said that people should not be sleeping rough right now (if they should ever be), so there needs to be accommodation for all of them, too. And people shouldn’t be in shared rooms, so night shelters that have provided space for people using shared rooms have to close. That means many people needing accommodation where they can have their own rooms. Obviously, that’s something we’d always want for everyone; achieving it is harder.
But Plymouth, like other areas, has worked hard to do that, partner agencies – including the Council – taking on properties and providing support for people. It’s been a huge but successful task.
It doesn’t mean that there’s now no one sleeping rough. There are always people who reject or walk out of accommodation, for whom – we might say – we haven’t yet found the right answer. But there is constant work to help everyone.
Then there are all the people who have been sofa surfing or in other accommodation where the lockdown makes it harder for them to stay there: we’re seeing more people presenting as homeless all the time. So we need accommodation for them, too, a range of people with different lives and different needs.
Again, Path and partner organisations are working hard to provide accommodation, both by negotiating with willing landlords and by taking on more properties, ourselves, so that we have places for people.
It’s an intense time. Not everything is sorted out, by any means, and new challenges keep presenting. But in Plymouth, probably like every area, there’s a lot being done by local services to accommodate and support people, homelessness, housing and also health services working together.
Once this is over we need to be able to keep what’s worked and to keep that focus on having an offer for everyone.