Invest in prevention to end homelessness for good

Andy Winter, BHT’s Chief Executive, has called for investment in prevention services in order to help end homelessness and rough sleeping for good.

Speaking at the annual conference of the National Housing Federation’s Smaller Housing Associations Conference, which was held online this month, Andy Winter said that councils like Brighton and Hove City Council, working in partnership with others, did “incredibly well to accommodate so many people during the first pandemic lockdown”, but warned that a different approach is needed to end homelessness for good.

He said:

If we are ever to end homelessness and rough sleeping we have to invest in prevention. We need to end homelessness before it begins.

Last year BHT’s advice centres in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings prevented 927 households from becoming homeless. That equates to over 2,000 people, some of whom may have ended up sleeping on the streets.

We need the government and local councils to invest in real prevention such as in advice and information services, and we need effective support services so that we can help people keep their homes. Critically, we need early intervention so that we can problem-solve before there is a breakdown between tenants and their landlords.

This approach would provide much better value for money and return on investment for tax payers and local councils, as well as being so much better for landlords and tenants alike.

At the moment we can only become involved through our advice centres when matters have reached the stage of formal litigation. How shortsighted is that?

Regarding rough sleeping, Andy Winter said that there was an “elephant in the room” that too many people did not want to acknowledge or address, and that is begging and drugs.

He said:

Many of the people who didn’t take up the opportunity to move into accommodation during the first lockdown were often those with addictions. They had a miserable time as begging returns went right down and they continued with the awful existence of being sick and tired due to their addictions.

I think we missed a great opportunity during the first lockdown – there should have been more alcohol and drug rehabilitation services available locally and nationally, and those remaining on the streets should have been told that begging is no longer an option, and this should have been enforced.

Unless we actively challenge begging we won’t effectively address addictions, and without addressing addictions, we won’t end rough sleeping.

And unless the government and local councils invest in abstinence-based residential rehab services, we will see increases in rough sleeping and deaths on the street.

Ultimately, though, we need public investment in social homes, including council housing. If there aren’t the houses with rents that people can afford, the housing and homelessness crisis will continue and grow. Surely we must have greater ambition than that.”

The conference was also addressed by the Housing Minister, Chris Pincher MP, and the Labour opposition spokesperson, Mike Amesbury.  BHT has launched a homelessness prevention campaign, End It Before It Begins – you can find out more here. 

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