Will Homeless Link make homelessness history?

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(The Pavement, 21 May 2009) In November 2006, Homeless Link, the umbrella organisation for all frontline homeless agencies, published a 10-step guide outlining its pledge to end rough sleeping by 2012 and all homelessness in the UK by 2022. So how’s it going, and why are there two deadlines?

Gill Perkins, head of communications at Homeless Link, told The Pavement they see the 2012 target as “a milestone” on the way to achieving the end of homelessness by 2022. It’s also the intention, according to the guide (Ending homelessness: From vision to action), that the end to rough sleeping will happen “in time for the Olympics”. In terms of funding, money donated is not specifically directed to the campaign or donated on the condition of meeting the goals, says Ms Perkins, but goes towards the general work of Homeless Link’s members in tackling homelessness – “our raison d’etre”. In order to measure progress, the Homeless Link action plan included a ‘roadmap’ to ending homelessness.

The draft Mayor’s Housing strategy does say the mayor will support Homeless Link’s target to end rough sleeping by 2012; and housing minister Iain Wright just this month (April) unveiled the ‘Places of Change’ programme to “help end persistent rough sleeping and reduce rough sleeping to as close to zero as possible” – a commitment and an action plan, though not quite the full pledge to end rough sleeping by 2012. As well as the roadmap, Homeless Link’s action plan laid down 10 key areas covering prevention, support and accommodation that must to be tackled in order to achieve their goal. These included introducing an “effective legal safety net for everyone who is homeless” in line with Scotland’s plan to abolish the “priority need” test by 2012; “emergency interventions” such as family mediation services and rent deposit schemes in every council area; as well as early prevention techniques such as spotting people in vulnerable ‘transition’ periods and assessing and issuing warnings about new government policies which could lead to homelessness. A “doubts and quibbles” page also responded to potential criticisms of their campaign, such as “But homelessness is only part of the problem for many people. You can’t solve everything”. Homeless Link’s answer to that challenge concluded: “Beacons of excellence demonstrate that with careful design and adequate funding, services can help even the most chaotic people to move towards a better life.”

Ten years ago Labour pledged to reduce rough sleeping to “as close to zero as possible” and cut the number of those sleeping on the streets by two-thirds before 2002. They claim to have achieved this target; however, this has been challenged by a number of homeless groups – as well as many of our readers – who say the figures do not represent the reality on the streets or take into account the “hidden homeless” drifting between hostels and the streets.

This April, the Department for Communities and Local Government published a discussion paper entitled Rough sleeping 10 years on: From the streets to independent living and opportunity, and has said it intends to publish an updated rough sleeping strategy later this year to set out government policy for the next three years. The recent discussion paper briefly outlines what this strategy will likely include before listing “who’s on the streets”. According to the paper, the answer is “a continuing flow of ‘new’ rough sleepers”, “migrants without recourse to public funds” and “entrenched rough sleepers resistant to service provision”.

Homelessness has undoubtedly been back on the agenda in recent times; with MEPs signing a pledge to end rough sleeping by 2015, London mayoral candidates backing Homeless Link’s goal and the Iain Wright’s recent pledge. Ms Perkins notes “a renewed focus from the government on this major social issue”, although she agrees that “Obviously government has to support our campaign to get all the relevant agencies working together – no one group can do it alone”. This focus on group effort means involving the opposition party and working with people like shadow housing minister Grant Shapps, as well as central government, local authorities, related organisations and the departments of health and criminal justice.

The government’s part in ending homelessness, according to Homeless Link’s plan, ranges from statutory reforms such as ending the “16-hour rule” and amending the Homelessness Act, to instructing policy change in other areas, whether directing NHS trusts to never discharge homeless people from hospitals onto the streets or halving the number of evictions.

So does Homeless Link think they can succeed to meet its goals? “Yes”, says Ms Perkins. “As long as everyone comes to the party… It’s an ambitious goal, but worthwhile”.

http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=423

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