Reactions to the pandemic have opened doors for action on homelessness , heard the parliamentary group
Given the situation with
COVID-19 it could be easy to forget the underlying picture of homelessness in the UK , Matt Downie , Crisis ’ s director of policy and external affairs , told the December Zoom meeting of the Drugs , Alcohol & Justice Cross-Party Parliamentary Group .
Since 2010 there had been a steady increase in people facing all types of housing issues in England , with 300,000 homelessness applications representing an unprecedented demand on local authorities . Street homelessness had benefited from being the focus of several initiatives which , while they were very welcome , often hid the problem through people moving into hostels and resorting to ‘ sofa surfing ’.
There had been a number of temporary measures during the pandemic including a ban on evictions and the ‘ Everybody In ’ initiative , as well as small uplifts in funding to local authority housing allowance and universal credit . While helpful in England in the short-term , a joined-up solution was needed to tackle the problem . New policies in Scotland had almost eradicated rough sleeping and led to permanent closure of night shelters in favour of a ‘ housing-led ’ approach . Scotland and Wales had seen the pandemic as an opportunity to change policy and tackle the problem head on , said Downie .
Jennie Corbett , policy manager at Homeless Link , explained the principles behind Housing First . The holistic approach supported people with complex needs , usually involving issues around mental health and substance misuse and offered accommodation , intensive support , and harm reduction interventions – without imposing conditions . Giving clients longterm safe and stable accommodation
enabled them to work on other issues and gradually build recovery capital .
With more than 100 services in the UK based on Housing First principles and around 2,000 individuals accessing them , the initiative was central to achieving the government ’ s commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024 . Its success required a multi-agency approach to provide the full range of support and this was emphasised by Tom Sackville and Craig Middleton from WDP . A safe , secure place to live was a basic tenet of the hierarchy of needs , without which it was difficult to engage with drug treatment services . They called for increased outreach services that offered a full range of harm reduction provision , a change to prison release practices and a drive to tackle the stigma faced by homeless people .
Alongside drug treatment , Humankind provided supported housing through several schemes including Red Bank in Manchester and the Greens in Sheffield – abstinencebased environments where residents could access services including one-to-one life skills , support , and group recovery sessions . Steve James of Humankind explained how they encouraged residents to begin volunteering and move into peer mentoring positions ; both schemes had around a 75 per cent success rate in moving clients out of homelessness and addiction . Despite this , they faced challenges through fluctuating levels of funding – directly from local authority grants , and through housing benefit payments which were linked to occupancy .
Mike Trace , chief executive of The Forward Trust welcomed the government ’ s commitment to spending in this area but questioned where all the money was going and who was overseeing the spend . ‘ If it is spent unstrategically , results will be poor and the opportunity lost ,’ he said . DDN
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‘ If COVID-19 has shown us one thing , it is that low threshold , evidence-based harm reduction interventions remain something we can still provide with a level of specialism ’
LET ’ S LOOK AHEAD
It was heart-warming to read the positive statements from the leadership across our sector in response to the appalling latest ONS drugrelated death statistics as this year draws to a close ( DDN , November , p18 ). What struck me about the individual responses was the same message entrenched throughout : the need for us to continue to follow the evidence in doing as much as we can , and continuing to provide easily accessible and low-threshold , evidence-based interventions to a wide range of people – often with multiple and unresolved traumas or social and economic disadvantages that more often than not carry incredible risk in how people are forced to live .
For a moment I could almost envision the headlines of the next UK strategy leading with : Follow the evidence , change or abolish antiquated laws , level up and invest in treatment , while making sure we offer service users the equality of opportunities we would expect for ourselves and our families .
If COVID-19 has shown us one thing , it is that low threshold , evidence-based harm reduction interventions remain something we can still provide with a level of specialism , unlike any other health or social care provider – while still improving upon the delivery as a collective with a mutual passion and insight . This has been demonstrated this year in the sector ’ s solidarity , flexibility and attitude .
With services maintaining open access in the majority of instances and new low-threshold innovations such as NSP direct , it ’ s obvious that together we can do much more of the same in the challenging year ahead with a refocus on harm reduction approaches that have stood the test of time . Peter Furlong , Change Grow Live NW harm reduction lead and development manager
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