Lack of stable accommodation makes it almost impossible to recover from substance issues . In the third of our latest commissioning series , we look at strong partnerships across the homelessness and substance misuse sectors
If it ’ s possible to draw any positives at all from the COVID pandemic , one might be that it demonstrated what proper joined-up action can do when it comes to tackling homelessness .
In 2020 , the ‘ Everyone In ’ scheme saw 37,000 people who were either sleeping rough or at risk of sleeping rough moved into emergency accommodation , showing ‘ just how much can be achieved with the right political will and investment ’, said Shelter .
However , a letter to the prime minister signed by 30 homelessness organisations in
June this year pointed out that rough sleeping rates since then have actually gone up , rising by 26 per cent between 2021 and 2022 – the biggest year-on-year percentage rise in nearly a decade ( DDN , July / August , page 5 ).
As the letter pointed out , the average age of death for someone experiencing homelessness is 43 for women and 45 for men . What ’ s more , according to ONS , almost two in five of these deaths are related to drug poisoning ( DDN , December 2022 / January 2023 , page 4 ). Homelessness and unstable housing also ‘ substantially ’ increase the risk of acquiring hepatitis C and HIV among people who inject drugs ( DDN , April 2021 , page 5 ), and according to Crisis , two thirds of homeless people cite drug or alcohol use as a reason for first becoming homeless in the first place .
These are clearly people who desperately need support , and that support hasn ’ t always been available . A report from St Mungo ’ s found that in 2018-19 , 12,000 people who were either sleeping rough or at risk of doing so missed out on the drug and alcohol treatment they needed .
JOINT WORKING All of which clearly reinforces the need for effective joint working between the drug treatment and homelessness sectors , something that ’ s often been patchy , to say the least . ‘ I think it ’ s not unlike trying to square the circle of dual diagnosis ,’ says director of recovery and resettlement at Ara in Bristol , Robbie Thornhill . ‘ There ’ s the historical idea that we have to fix one before we fix the other .’
Things seem to be changing , however . ‘ I do think now , with Dame Carol Black particularly , there ’ s more understanding about how vital stable and secure housing is to drug and alcohol treatment . We ’ ve been working at the nexus of homelessness and drug and alcohol treatment since 1987 and I really feel there ’ s a momentum behind looking at the two together .’
HOUSING SHORTAGE Bristol is a magnet for people from across the South West and South Wales , and as a result is an expensive city to live in . ‘ According to the Shelter stats , we have 19,000 people on the social housing waiting list ,’ says Thornhill . ‘ So if you ’ re a single male between the ages of 18 and 35 you won ’ t get housing – they ’ re advising people to look at private rented options .’
These are also very thin on the ground , however . Properties at the Local Housing Allowance rate – used to calculate housing benefit for tenants in the private rented sector – are in incredibly short supply , and ‘ obviously you have everyone going for those ’, says Thornhill . ‘ So if you don ’ t have the social housing option , and people aren ’ t able to access
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