All posts from: June 2012
Rough sleeping figures for London are thought to be out this week and charities are expecting big rises.
When homelessness charity Broadway released the figures last month it showed 648 people had slept rough in the capital in the two months before 30 April, a 73 per cent rise from the same period the year before.
Although the figures showed that 515 of the people that came onto the streets had no second night out, there were still 468 people who returned to the streets in those two months after a period away. There were still 133 of new people on the streets who had a second night out and 223 (up 23 per cent from the same period the year before) were counted as ‘living on the streets’ [entrenched rough sleepers, or in danger of becoming so].
The mayor’s team at City Hall were not pleased when Inside Housing suggested they might have to ‘lower the bar’ to hit Boris Johnson’s aim of ending rough sleeping by the end of this year. But might they now have to admit this will be necessary to hit the target? Or at least admit – with rising figures in the year they aim to end rough sleeping - that target is going to be impossible to hit. There is a chance they may stop people ending up on the streets a second night, especially now as they are planning a second hub – where rough sleepers can be taken to find them accommodation - is soon to be set up. But they can not stop people (‘flowing’) onto the streets, and it appears they can not stop people who want to live on the streets staying there – and returning.
Perhaps eyes should turn to Scotland to find out what they are doing right there? Scottish homelessness figures came out today (not rough sleeping, but they can have a knock on effect) and they do provide a stark contrast to the English figures. Scottish figures are going down, whilst English figures sharply rise.
Is it something to do with housing being higher up on the political agenda in Scotland, an emphasis on preventing homelessness in that country? Every one waits with baited breath for Grant Shapp’s inter-departmental ministerial working group to produce its strategy on preventing homelessness. It was expected to come out this month, but now appears to have been delayed until next month. At least.
Maybe we can expect to see homelessness and rough sleeping figures in this country start to fall soon after it comes out. Maybe. Or (more likely) maybe not.
If you didn’t know already, this week is Refugee Week. This year, there is a special focus on people who have made a difference to the Olympics and to UK sport.
Housing providers are often central to a refugee’s experience of this country. After all, this is a group of people who are more likely to need housing support than almost anyone else.
A snapshot survey of asylum seekers and refugees living in Glasgow, carried out by Glasgow University, found that more than 100 were living in destitution, for an average time span of one and a half years, though one survey participant had been destitute for as long as six and a half years.
On a more positive note, London-based association Metropolitan are tackling the problem of a language barrier with a home learning project. The project provides tuition for refugees who are unable to leave their homes, often due to mental health issues arising from the trauma experienced by having to leave their country of origin.
Sixty-four refugees have received tuition and seventeen refugees, including both learners and learning mentors, have taken up voluntary work as a result.
Rosie Ward, project coordinator, says: ‘The extent of isolation experienced by refugees is unbelievable. Some of them have had little or no contact with their local community for several years and many are suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and a sense of displacement. The home learning project teaches them the language skills they need to function within the community, improves their confidence and knowledge of the local area and gives them hope.’
It all sounds like good news, but Ms Ward adds that the funding for the service will come to an end in September, leaving its future unclear. Currently, it’s the only project of its type in London.
The Refugee Week focus this year seems just right – there is so much focus on Britishness in the country at the moment that it is probably worth stepping back and looking at people who have come to Britain and genuinely made a difference.
But more than that, at a time of squeezed budgets, shouldn’t we be doing as much as we can to make people who come here in search of protection, welcome?
You might have thought when the government was drawing up a test to see if ill or disabled people claiming benefits were fit for work they might have thought homelessness a consideration.
People claiming employment and support allowance might well be homeless. Homelessness often means people have chaotic lives and multiple needs – such as drug and alcohol dependency issues – and while deemed physically fit to work, their life circumstances might mean they are in no way ready to hold down a job.
Homelessness charity Crisis research last month found the tests were ‘inhumane’ for homeless people and 80 per cent of the homeless people they spoke to for the study did not have a positive view of their experience of the assessments. Ninety seven per cent of individuals were stressed their claims would be turned down.
Professor Malcolm Harrington is now in his third year of reviewing the work capability assessment, but it took a recent submission from charities Crisis, St Mungo’s, Thames Reach and Broadway for homelessness to be recognised as an important consideration.
He has now agreed the assessment should consider homelessness and the charities are coming up with ways to do that.
This might mean homelessness is now flagged up on questionnaires, and Department for Work and Pensions employees trained to recognise homelessness.
But does this reflect the attitudes of the people in power to homeless people? Do many of them think homeless people should just go out and get a job, and be stopped from getting the benefits they skank from the British taxpayer?
Hopefully this is not an attitude reflected in the strategy from the inter-departmental ministerial working group set up to tackle homelessness, expected to come out this month.
Homelessness charities have already criticised a draft they have seen because they say the strategy – aimed at preventing homelessness – provides few sticks to ensure councils comply.
Maybe the ministerial working group will show the government really can come up with something that understands the problems of homelessness, and that it cares. It will be interesting to see if the group really is more than the talking shop people thought it might be. Or perhaps it will miss out vital considerations, just like the WCA.
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