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Homeless prevention works – but not for everyone

November 16th 2017

Victoria Winckler says that new legislation on homelessness is working but some people are still falling through the net.

To a casual observer, Wales very clearly has a homelessness problem. The evidence that there are people without a roof over their head is all too evident in doorways, alleyways and bus shelters in every town and city.

All this was supposed to have ended with the Housing (Wales) Act 2014.

The provisions of that Act in respect of homeless were a radical departure from the previous approach. The emphasis on prevention and on meeting people’s needs were pretty well unprecedented, and were widely welcomed.

And it’s worked!

According to a report by Crisis with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Housing (Wales) Act has made a real difference. Two thirds of people who were threatened with homelessness have been prevented from losing their home. That’s an incredible reduction in human misery. And of those whose homelessness can’t be prevented, four out of ten are helped to find accommodation – another huge fall in the terrible toll of homelessness.

As a result, the number of homeless households that local authorities have to find accommodation for is a fraction of what it was before the legislation. In fact the Act is so good that a similar approach is being adopted in England.

So how does this good news fit with the rising tide of sleeping bags, cardboard and plastic sheeting in Wales’ doorways?

Well the Act isn’t perfect. In particular, it does not require local authorities to find accommodation for people who are not ‘in priority need’ or who are classed as ‘not co-operating’ with the support offered. This is legal-speak for a single person without children, or someone who is mentally ill but can get by with medication, or someone who has refused an offer of a home perhaps because it is too far away.

There is real concern that welfare reforms, particularly those affecting young people, could make the position much worse.

It is a fitting tribute to Carl Sargeant AM, who introduced the bill and steered it through the Assembly, that the Act has saved so many people from the streets of Wales.  And the local authorities and third sector organisations who are making it work on the ground should also be lauded.

But nobody can be comfortable with the apparent increase in rough sleeping. Much more needs to be done to prevent people reaching the streets before we can fully celebrate success.

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation. This is a version of a presentation she made at the launch of Crisis / JRF’s Homelessness Monitor 2017








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