On Tuesday 2 June we were lucky enough to hold a virtual meeting for local party members with special guests, Steve Roberts, Chair of Trustees at Resolve and Sarah Jamieson, Project Manager at the Resolve Night Shelter.
Resolve was originally established in 2008 to support and help people in the Welwyn and Hatfield area to recover from the many issues arising from alcohol and/or substance misuse. It has expanded to now include management of the Night Shelter and Sparks Community Café, both in Hatfield and more recently to help in the Covid-19 crisis.
During the last week in March the Government announced that they would like councils to provide homes for all rough sleepers by that weekend and since then, Sarah and some of her team, have been housed with eight people, who were previously using the night shelter, in Jimmy Macs Centre in Hatfield. They have been part of a huge success story. The eight residents, all with some issues of substance abuse before lock down, are now all clean. Not only that, they have been involved in amazing community projects helping with gardening and decorating and are now doing a virtual bike ride from Lands End to John O Groats.
This is a great local success story with lots of hard work from the people involved, but there are similar stories across the country and very important lessons to be learned for ourselves and for those in power as a result.
- The vast majority of homeless people want to sort out their problems and given a home and the right support they can address their issues, plan for their futures and contribute to society.
- Government can find the resources, when they choose to, to fund such initiatives. Nearly 15,000 rough sleepers have been housed since March. Those who say that this money was only found because of a crisis perhaps do not recognize that for homeless people the crisis is a permanent way of life. It has been estimated before Covid-19 that 700 people in England and Wales die per year whilst homeless.
There are perhaps some other things to bear in mind:
- Independent figures show that there has been a 141% increase in rough sleeping between 2010 and 2019
- The UK Statistics Authority have written to the Housing Ministry about its misleading use of statistics on this issue.
- The Government dedicated £3.2 million to provisions for rough sleepers at the beginning of the crisis which works out as £128 per head. They have since announced more money, but this is still not enough considering the 53% fall in funding between 2008/9 and 2017/18- a £1billion a year funding gap.
- Hundreds of people are still trying to live on the streets in increasingly difficult circumstances and the numbers are increasing because of job losses, domestic violence and the lack of a sufficient benefit safety net. There is also a worry about the Government’s lack of response to those worried about eviction from rented properties.
- The Government needs to issue an exit strategy for the people involved in this crisis. The thousands of people who have been recently housed should not just be dumped back on the streets. We need to keep in touch with what is happening locally, not just with the 8 residents of Jimmy Macs but those who have been put up in local hotels.
- The Government has vowed to make 3,300 homes available with in 2 months with 6,000 housing units to be with money being brough forward from the 4-year rough sleeping budget. We need to keep up the pressure on this issue.
- Housing First is a successful scheme which has been used around the world including in Wales and Scotland. It is a system which supplies permanent, unconditional accommodation for homeless people where support is provided. Despite the worldwide success of the scheme the Government set up its own trials in this country. Crisis have sent a fully costed proposal to the Government to role out Housing First showing that it costs less than the status quo as well as, crucially, being better for the people involved. Housing First was part of the Labour Party Manifesto in 2019 and we should continue to support this policy.
- The issue of homeless prevention needs to be addressed further. It was only partly addressed by the Homeless Reduction Act, but a huge part of prevention is providing a better safety net. Before the Covid-19 crisis the majority of people being made homeless were those being thrown out of privately rented accommodation because they could not afford the rent.