Homelessness - Prevention
Posted on Wednesday, November 14, 2018 by Mike Bobbett — No comments
What is a home? A safe place to retreat into, a warm dry place, somewhere there is food to eat and a bed to sleep in. Every adult and child deserves this basic need and it’s criminal that the 5th most developed country in the world has a homeless problem. Homelessness should be a concern to all of us because it is all too easy for each of us to find ourselves needing the support of our local authority. Companies downsizing, seeking greater efficiencies or the extent of mental health issues affecting a large part of the adult population impacting their ability to sustain long term employment means there are people being made redundant every day. Lose your job, can’t pay your mortgage or rent, foreclosure by the bank or eviction by the landlord and suddenly you and your children find yourself in temporary accommodation that is all too often in poor condition because there is limited regulation of private sector landlords.
The Government has placed the burden on Local Authorities who have the legislative duty towards homeless families and individuals but they are limited in the impact they can have on the macro solutions - increase number of well paid jobs in the market, reduce level of private sector rents and increase housing stock. So what can they do? Well typically they end up subsidising less than acceptable temporary accommodation or placing people many miles from their support networks. This is because they often don’t see the homeless family until it’s too late to prevent.
It is much easier, more cost effective and less stressful for the family if homelessness can be prevented. Central Government has rightly changed the legislation to standardise and extend the period of support given by all Authorities to each homeless applicant specifically to assist in prevention. Whilst this is welcome, although limited additional funding has been made available, it can still all too often be too late. Local Authorities need to be using demographic data plus their own knowledge to identify those who are at most risk and ensure appropriate support is provided.
Analysis of homeless families over time has shown there are trends that could be tracked and used to help provide the assistance earlier and potentially reduce the number of evictions. Three of the most common noted are; extended credit card debt, mental health diagnosis and in receipt of housing benefit and although it is obviously true that not all families experiencing one of these three problems will become homeless it is also true that those who do fall homeless often have experienced one or more of these factors.
So how can Local Authorities improve prevention, what can they do?
- For all those on housing benefit they know the following; their income, amount of housing benefit currently awarded, work status, the rent being charged, the market rent for a property that size in their location and the landlord. A simple calculation of the discount to market rent would indicate the potential for the landlord to increase the rent and calculation of the maximum housing benefit that could be awarded would quickly identify if this family might be in danger of eviction in the future. Effort could then be targeted at these high risk families, encourage better domestic budgeting, maximise the benefits they are entitled too and provide advice with regard to improved job opportunities. It is the Local Authority who has the data but often use of the voluntary sector is a more effective way of engaging with families.
- Another area that Local Authorities could be more effective in prevention is recognising when a person is encountering mental health issues, are they likely to be long term, what is their current work capability, are they in danger of losing their income, how would they pay their rent if they lost their job etc. Establishing a better forward notification between health, social services and homeless would help Authorities to prepare improved pathways for financial assistance.
- Lastly, but perhaps controversially, notification of a families deteriorating credit rating, particularly if related to over extended credit card debt would enable an Authority to target the family with supportive effort using voluntary sector to provide advice, assist in acquiring additional benefits, work, domestic budgeting etc.
If these 3 things can be implemented successfully this should result in a positive outcome when it comes to the existing homeless issue. The basic need of a safe reatreat, warm & dry, where food is to eat and a bed to sleep in should not only be deserved but also delivered.
Mike Bobbett - Digital Public Design Services - www.digitalpublicdesign1.com