Since the government asked councils to house all rough sleepers a month ago, the latest figures show that 90% have now been offered safe accommodation, albeit temporarily. This directive, along with other measures such as increasing Local Housing Allowance rates, halting evictions and approving mortgage payment holidays, go some way to support those at risk of homelessness in the short-term.
However, we cannot overlook some alarming – yet not entirely unexpected – statistics: Refuge reported an overnight increase of 120% in calls to its domestic abuse helpline in early April; Shelter predict 1.7 million renters are likely to be jobless in the next three months; and Public Health England have found that 4 in 5 adults are worried about the effect of Covid-19 on their life, with over half saying it is affecting their wellbeing.
These emerging trends have the potential to significantly impact demand for housing services further down the line. This is because homelessness and rough sleeping are broadly understood as stemming from structural factors (such as lack of affordable housing, unfavourable labour market conditions and rising poverty levels), individual factors (such as mental illness, financial hardship, relationship breakdown and associated domestic abuse and violence) or a combination of the two. In other words, homelessness is inherently complex, and arises from a network of interacting causes that cannot be isolated. Structural changes and increased pressure on some members of society because of the pandemic are likely to result in unprecedented levels of homelessness and demand for housing support.
Last week, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee launched an inquiry into this issue, with MPs expected to discuss what long-term strategies are needed. Until the committee publishes its report, councils must proactively manage demand for housing services. We have three recommendations:
- Map plausible delayed, displaced and additional demand across the system. This starting point will help inform plans for managing demand for housing services once the current measures expire.
- Assess and strengthen organisational resilience. Leaders need to closely monitor their staff’s capacity to not only respond to immediate pressures but, equally, adapt to evolving conditions over the longer term both at a strategic, tactical and operational level.
- Rebuild into something new. There is a real opportunity to build momentum to work across boundaries to reform homelessness support post-lockdown into something new that not only manages the expected increase in demand but also changes the whole landscape. However, people will default into previous ways of working unless clear intention is set early on.
Covid-19 has been extremely disruptive, yet it has also created an opportunity for the reformation of public services. Taking nearly all rough sleepers off the streets into safe accommodation shows the type of achievement that can made when central government, councils, charities and businesses work towards a common goal. The potential for working across organisational interfaces in order to better tackle homelessness is clearly there.