Services need investment
Organisations that support vulnerable people are already struggling, further cuts could prove fatal, argues Matt Harrison
Inside Housing has reported that 46,000 vulnerable people in England have been affected by cuts to their funding.
That is a hard number to ignore, but unfortunately it is not news to the homelessness sector. We know from our members – through our research and the conversations we have with them every day – that spending cuts are hitting services that support the most vulnerable and having a negative impact on the people they support.
Many of these people have complex and multiple needs that go beyond just providing a roof over their heads. Traumatic experiences in childhood, mental health issues and drug or alcohol problems can all play their part in an individual’s homelessness. Tackling homelessness, in many instances, requires high level support packages that meet the individual needs of those experiencing homelessness.
The results from our latest survey of the sector, Survey of Needs and Provision 2012, have shown that while many services continue to stay open and provide much needed accommodation, they are struggling to provide high quality support with fewer bed spaces, reduced staff and closures of some local services.
Because of this, many services are being put in the difficult position of having to refuse support to people with complex needs. This can leave individuals without support to help them move on and live independently, and staff demoralised because they cannot do their job.
We are already beginning to see the long-term cost of this to individuals and the communities they live in as our members report a rise in rough sleeping, street drinking and anti-social behaviour in their areas as a result of funding cuts.
As more than half of our members have told us they expect further cuts in 2012, we are deeply concerned that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
There are practical steps services can take, both big and small, to protect themselves against further cuts. Our guidance on responding to the cuts includes tips for frontline staff and managers on demonstrating the local need for a service and how it is best placed to meet that need; carrying out a cost benefit analysis; how to be more efficient; and using local knowledge to influence decision making.
We have also just launched the second round of the Homelessness Transition Fund offering homelessness services the opportunity to apply for grants of up to £200,000 to protect critical services and deliver an end to rough sleeping.
Ultimately it is clear that services need investment to meet the individual needs of the most vulnerable and the communities where they are. We are working with our members, the government and local authorities to protect funding and our message to commissioners is clear – don’t cut critical services further. Otherwise it will be people and communities who pay the long-term price.
Matt Harrison is interim chief executive at Homeless Link