There are 69,000 households in temporary accommodation, often hostels. It is both highly unsatisfactory for the people concerned (especially those with children) and very expensive for the taxpayer. Furthermore there is a shortage of hostel accommodation which means that some pretty awful places end up being used by desperate local authorities. Some applicants end up sofa surfing or rough sleeping (an estimated 3,569 a night) having failed to give a housing officer the correct answers to be categorised as statutorily homeless.
Of course the principal and long term solution must be to increase the housing supply.
However there is another way that could also alleviate the problem. That is to ensure those currently homeless are able to find work and earn enough to make their own housing arrangements.
That is the approach favoured by Caritas Anchor House, a homelessness charity in Canning Town. They have a building with 118 bed spaces but regard it not just as a hostel but as acting “as a residential and life skills centre, supporting more than 220 single homeless adults each year…[It] acts as a community hub by providing vital education, training and personal rehabilitation.”
The charity says:
“The alternative is to improve the throughput of homeless people within the homeless sector and reduce the average length of stay from current levels of 12-14 months. If this can be achieved, capacity within the homeless sector will be released to support more people in significant need – thereby helping to reduce demands on public services while also realising the ambitions of the government’s Life Chances strategy.”
Of course it is not the only homeless charity that makes this effort. But it is more successful than most – twice as successful as a matter of fact. Twenty-eight per cent of Caritas Anchor House residents were in employment from January to March 2016. The average in the homeless sector is 14 per cent.
Caritas Anchor House has requested funding for a project called the Global NoticeBoard. They suggest an investment in technology could provide a better return than more bricks and mortar. Making better use of the existing bricks and mortar could provide better value. They estimate that their approach could free up about ten per cent of 38,000 hostel beds – allowing an extra 3,800 homeless people a year to be helped.
The Global Noticeboard website would aim to achieve this by allowing “job searching, accommodation searching, volunteering and time banking” to suits the particular needs of the individual requiring help. It would also encourage the rest of us to donate time and items as well as money. It would provide a platform for citizen journalism and would also seek revenue from classified advertising.
Their pitch for Cabinet Office funding is as follows:
“The 2016 Budget committed spending £100 million to provide 2,000 accommodation places for rough sleepers who are ready to move on from crisis hostels. However, whilst welcome, this will be insufficient to address the extent of homelessness in England. It will also limit the number of people that can be helped by government to the total number of additional hostel places secured. A £2.5million government grant to support the development of the Global NoticeBoard would increase the throughput of rough sleepers through homelessness charities and services by ten percent. We would expect this development to assist 3,850 people (10% of the 38,500 homelessness housing stock) through the vital provision of accommodation, employment and training opportunities.”
Spending £2.5 million to get 3,850 off the streets does sound like a better deal than £100 million to get 2,000 off the streets. Naturally the bid should be scrutinised with due rigour but their success on a modest scale in Newham does give the charity credibility.
There is a wider point for charities and housing officers that deal with homelessness. “Throughput” might not be an attractive term but surely it makes sense to give it priority rather than struggling to provide ever more hostels where ever more people remain stuck.