Evidence base for preventing homelessness and rough sleeping strategy
DLUHC guidance on developing a homelessness strategy requires that they are developed with, and have the support of, other local authority departments, and relevant external partners. To ensure this engagement and to maximise commitment to delivering the new strategy, a number of consultation events were held. These are listed below, together with a brief summary of the outcomes.
Local authorities should also consider the best way to get the views of service users, who may have very different experiences and circumstances. In view of this and the difficulties of organising consultation events with Covid restrictions in place, the strategy has relied on the views put forward by third sector organisations supporting homeless households.
21.1 Stakeholder forums
There are two stakeholder forums for Buckinghamshire which meet regularly to discuss issues relating to homelessness and to monitor actions from previous actions plans. Attendees include those from third sector organisations and RPs. A consultation session was held with each forum. During the three-hour workshops, participants were asked to identify what was in place to support particular client groups or to address causes of homelessness, where there were gaps, and priorities for addressing these. The strengths of current services include:
- Strong partnership working in many areas and for many different client groups, including protocols for sharing information
- Services which are able to develop and respond as needs change
- Strong focus on tackling financial exclusion with new partnerships being rolled out across the whole local authority area.
Key priorities which emerged from the sessions included:
- Earlier identification of those at risk of becoming homeless, ranging from survivors of domestic violence and abuse to those leaving prison
- More housing which is affordable and easier to access for those on low incomes; more options for people to retain tenancy where feasible
- More support services which are able to work with households for a longer period of time to ensure the tenancy is sustained
- Joined up services for those with multiple needs; navigators to support them to find appropriate services
- Training/awareness sessions around particular topics such as responding to people with mental health needs
- Reviewing thresholds for access to some services, so that people don’t have to be in crisis before they can get help
- More focus on financial education/literacy, eg in schools
- Better monitoring of repeat homelessness
- A contact list for the housing and homelessness services to make it easier for external partners to contact the right person.
Organisations were also asked about what they would like to see in the new strategy, and how their organisation could contribute. These ‘wants’ and ‘offers’ are picked up in the strategy itself.
21.2 Internal stakeholder forum
This session was equally well-attended, with representation from most services, including adult care services, children’s services, community safety, and housing benefit. Some of those attending had particular interests in certain client groups, such as those leaving the military, and gypsies, Romany gypsies, and travellers.
During the three-hour workshops, participants were asked to identify how their services contributed to preventing and tackling homelessness, any areas where services could be improved, and priorities for addressing these.
The strengths of current services include:
- Preventing and tackling homelessness is a key corporate priority
- Strong partnership working with a shared understanding of the causes of homelessness.
Key priorities which emerged from the session included:
- Developing a better understanding of ‘intentional’ homelessness where other factors, such as drug and alcohol abuse, are involved
- Greater emphasis on tenancy sustainment from all service
- More suitable accommodation options for various client groups.
There were specific references to those leaving prison, leaving the armed forces, and the gypsy, Romany and traveller communities.
21.3 Elected members
A workshop was held to give members the opportunity to input into the strategy at an early stage; members will obviously be responsible for signing off the draft strategy. Preventing and tackling homelessness has already been agreed as a corporate priority for the new council, and those who attended the workshop were keen to understand the ways in which the council could have real impact. After a short presentation, there was an open discussion in smaller groups. Some of the priorities which emerged from this include:
- The need for more affordable housing, and easier access to the private rented sector
- Support to tackle some of the underlying causes of homelessness, such as debt, addiction, and mental health problems
- Support for some particular groups, such as those sleeping rough, survivors of domestic abuse, and those leaving the armed force.
Members were asked about priorities, but generally felt at this stage they had too little information to make informed decisions. They wanted the strategy to be deliverable, and to build on the many examples of good practice already in place. They also indicated that the strategy should meet a wide range of different needs and circumstances, focusing on actions that would make a real difference.