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Homelessness must be an election issue

The next government could turn the tide on rising homelessness and end rough sleeping, says Matt Downie

Matt   Downie

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Matt   Downie
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In under two months’ time, the UK will go to the polls. It’s time for homelessness to feature as an election issue and as a priority for the next UK government.

This Thursday will see Crisis mark the start of our 50th anniversary year. Half a century ago, shadow chancellor Iain Macleod launched Crisis with colleagues across the political spectrum by issuing this challenge: “We call upon the talents, ideas and enthusiasm of people from all different prejudices and beliefs in a constructive attempt to tackle this growing urban problem. The idea is that people of all the political parties shall come together for the same cause. If there be rivalry between them, it will be the rivalry of achievement.”

“Whoever wins will face the challenge of what to do about the thousands of people who are sleeping on Britain’s streets, on the sofas of friends and family, in squats or in temporary accommodation.”

The question on all of our minds will be what our next government can do to make sure that in another 50 years’ time, homelessness charities such as ourselves will no longer be needed.

Homelessness is rising, and whoever wins the general election will face the challenge of what to do about the many thousands of people who are sleeping on Britain’s streets, on the sofas of friends and family, in squats or in unsuitable temporary accommodation.

As the parties prepare their election pledges, we want homelessness to be centre stage, with firm commitments to end rough sleeping and a national plan to tackle all forms of homelessness.

The cross-party consensus is there, and we’ve already seen a major success in the form of the soon-to-be Homelessness Reduction Act, which should transform the help available to homeless people in England, many of whom are currently denied help. Yet if it is to be successful, it needs to be part of a realistic and achievable UK-wide plan to end homelessness for good.

Over the coming year, Crisis will bring together the people, evidence and expertise needed to write a long-term plan for ending homelessness, including consultations across Britain and a large-scale programme of research.

And whatever the outcome of the election, we’ll need the next UK government to be on board. It is not within our gift to predict or prevent some of the causes of homelessness, like relationships breaking down or people losing their jobs, but what we do know with absolute certainty is that there is not a single homeless person whose situation cannot be resolved.

Where we know homelessness is coming we can prevent it. When homelessness does happen we can deal with it quickly and permanently. And for those who have lived with homelessness for longer, there has never been more evidence of how to successfully get people into their own homes.

“The rough sleeping initiatives of the 1990s and 2000s reduced rough sleeping by two-thirds.”

First and foremost, we want to see an unequivocal commitment to end rough sleeping from the new government. The rough sleeping initiatives of the 1990s and 2000s reduced rough sleeping by two-thirds, and more recently we’ve seen international examples in Finland and Canada where rough sleeping has ended.

It can be done and must be done.

Rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010 and for too many people sleeping rough, the consequences are life-threatening.

Much of the progress around the world to tackle homelessness has been driven by permanent housing approaches to the problem, such as Housing First. As recently suggested by the Centre for Social Justice, Housing First has an overwhelming evidence base of success and should be adopted as part of a rough sleeping initiative and more widely to tackle homelessness.

Homelessness is complex, and there are no quick fixes, but the political will is there to tackle it, as we have seen from the positive response to the Homelessness Reduction Bill.

Ending rough sleeping and other acute forms of homelessness is something we can all agree on. It’s time we got on with it, and I sincerely hope that this general election is a turning point towards a future where homelessness has ended once and for all.

Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs, Crisis

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