COVID-19 has marked a step change in thinking across different disciplines and contexts, and the pandemic has prompted many of us to consider those more vulnerable than ourselves. This holds particularly true for the homelessness crisis.
Since the Prime Minister announced the introduction of the lockdown on March 23rd, there has been an unprecedented drive to provide shelter to rough sleepers. Under the “Everyone In” initiative, the Treasury allocated £3.2m to provide interim support for rough sleepers, providing emergency shelter to almost 15,000 people. By June, a further £105m was allocated to ensure that those who had been housed would remain housed into the future. For many, this will be the first time they have engaged with support services, providing an opportunity for those entrenched in rough sleeping to envisage a different life.
Whilst this is certainly something to be celebrated, and whilst MHCLG has, as of this July, announced further funding to local authorities as part of their Next Steps Accommodation Programme, finding permanent homes of high enough quality is not easily achieved. The government has shown that, with a bit of initiative and some ‘recourse’ to the public coffers, it can provide a solution for our rough sleepers: it is now time to translate that initiative into the housing sector. However, rough sleeping is just the sharp end of the homelessness crisis: England has more than 300,000 statutory homeless people living in temporary housing – accommodation that is oftentimes unsuitable in terms of quality, location and the support it is able to offer. There is no doubt that temporary housing is a crucially important step, but for it to facilitate an effective transition into permanent housing, it must also offer a helping hand.
To date, the sector has had little focus in this regard. Local authorities often rely on overpriced and poor quality solutions – substandard period stock, B&Bs, converted office buildings - that fail to address the needs of those it is there to house. Our housing problem is not just about provision, but about quality, and this holds particularly true for temporary housing - a failure to recognise this point can have long-lasting consequences. Being homeless is disempowering; the provision of temporary homes needs to support re-empowerment and work to meet the needs of the people it intends to help. A top down approach with widespread government support and funding needs to meet a bottom up approach that fights for safe, secure and suitable homes alongside an equally suitable social support framework. Supportive policy here is key – planning guidelines should reflect the specific role that the sector plays in transitioning individuals and families back to permanent homes, and should support the development of good housing to meet these needs.
On 21st July, it was announced that the London Housing Directors Group, alongside London Councils, has initiated a project to inspect and, if necessary, upgrade temporary housing – a much needed step in the fight against poor quality in the capital, where these issues are most prevalent. We must now continue in the same vein. The time has come for a renewed focus on temporary housing, the need for which local authorities have long hoped would disappear, but which has not. Indeed an impending Covid-induced recession will likely create an even greater demand for it. Other housing subsectors build with the needs of the end user in mind and it is time that the same high standards were applied to temporary housing. Let us ‘build, build, build’ supportive, uplifting temporary homes which will ease a transition back to permanent housing, in what for many will be the most difficult period in their lives.
Temporary housing must be built, but above all, it must be built with quality and focus.
If you would like to find out more about how the Housing LIN can support you plan strategically to meet the longer term accommodation needs of people who are homeless or in insecure housing, please email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org