Mark Rogers, Chief Executive for Circle Housing explains why we must address the root causes of the problem if we are to solve the homelessness crisis once and for all.
This month (August) the Communities and Local Government Select Committee released their report looking at the issue of homelessness, which is sadly becoming more prevalent, particularly in areas such as London and the South East.
Through our work in housing and care and support, we know all too well the challenge posed by homelessness and the pressures placed on those working to alleviate it. We welcome the political attention that this report brings and are committed to working with the Government and all partners to address this problem. It is only by working in partnership and joining up housing with health that we can begin to tackle this issue head on.
The Committee is right to highlight that a key way of eradicating homelessness is to prevent it in the first place. On the surface this seems straightforward, but in reality serves to highlight that homelessness has become the forgotten side of the housing crisis that continues to blight our communities.
We are committed to ensuring that we build high quality homes that meet the needs of our communities and through our planned merger with Affinity Sutton, we have an ambitious target of building 50,000 homes in ten years. As one of the largest house builders in England together we will be able to play a leading role in tackling the housing shortage. Our priority will be homes for subsidised rent and low cost home ownership for people in housing need.
However, homelessness cannot be boiled down to a set of numbers or statistics and there is not a simple solution to solving it. Whilst housing must be a core part of any strategy it must not be the sole focus.
The report also rightly highlights the close relationship between offending and homelessness. It is a sad reality that many leaving prison struggle, particularly when they do not receive the support that they need. This can, in the most extreme cases include newly released prisoners being given tents and sleeping bags rather than a place to live and begin their new lives.
This is something we know about. Through our care and support arm, Centra, we understand the link between resettlement and mental health and the effects of bad policy, in theory and in practice. Across London and Kent, we work to deliver a programme bringing together prison resettlement and mental health support.
This six month programme of support works by identifying the most vulnerable prisoners prior to release and then working collaboratively as they leave prison and reintegrate into their communities. Through this service, people who are leaving prison and are at risk of homelessness are given mental health support, helped to find accommodation, training and employment. This support is often the difference between enabling a person to lead an independent productive life in the community and them turning back to crime in order to survive.
We have also teamed up with The Amy Winehouse Foundation to provide a new women-only recovery house, Amy’s Place, in East London for up to 16 women overcoming drug and alcohol addiction. The road to rehabilitation is often a difficult and long one and it is very easy for women to end up back on drugs and on the streets.
As the report highlights, homeless women and girls are at greater risk of sexual violence, prostitution or engaging in unhealthy relationships in order to access accommodation than their male counterparts. This backs up what we have found as there is also a lack of support to meet the needs of women who are recovering from addictions.
Amy’s Place will be one of the only projects in the country to bridge the gap between women leaving addiction treatment services and finding independent accommodation. It will provide a lasting legacy of support for women to reintegrate into society with the best possible opportunity of sustaining their recovery and building a fulfilling life.
We support the Committee’s recommendation that whilst there is a clear demand for low cost home ownership, such as Starter Homes, homes for affordable rent must be built as they will always be needed. We urge the Government to heed this report and to work with all interested parties across housing and health to tackle this growing problem.