When it comes to addressing homelessness, it’s natural that what you see as the problem is what you believe is the problem. In the past decade, the issue of people finding themselves without a home, income and support system has become dire, and the situation on our city streets makes it evident.
In the centre of Manchester, Brighton and parts of London, its hard to walk two streets without happening upon an individual, sleeping in a doorway or begging for food or spare change. It’s gut-wrenching, to see people at their most vulnerable, and understandably, it inspires much-needed action.
Yet, most people don’t understand that rough sleeping is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to homelessness. As of December 2018, Shelter, released statistics that there are now over 320,000 people across the U.K. experiencing homelessness, of which 4,677 are estimated to be sleeping rough. That’s less than 2% of the population of people experiencing the issue.
Which means, we have a much bigger issue on our hands. People staying in hostels, B&Bs, on friend’s sofas or in sheltered accommodation, which we don’t get to see, but due to the insecure, temporary and varying quality of accommodation provided, means people are experiencing homelessness, whether it looks like what we expect it to or not.
This also presents a challenge. With men, women, families and working people all struggling to make ends meet, that’s a lot of people in need of housing and support. Yet, with a 1.15m long social housing waiting list and a lack of affordable homes nationwide, plus local authority budget cuts across the country meaning mental health, addiction and homelessness support is challenged, how?
With rough sleeping representing the most acute need – and costing the public purse an average of £20,000 a year to support – finding housing becomes imperative. In Greater Manchester in particular, significant efforts are going into programmes like the social impact bond, where private sector money is invested by the public sector to secure accommodation and support, but only for the most entrenched rough sleepers.
Housing First – an internationally renowned programme for turning around the lives of people with multiple and complex needs – is also being piloted in Manchester this year. 400 homes are being made available in partnership with Great Places Housing Group, with the wraparound support needed to turn lives around.
Yet, with thousands of people in the region – at a minimum surpassing 5,500 across the region according to Greater Manchester Together – experiencing homelessness, and around 400 of those rough sleepers, how to help the vast majority of people in this situation?
People with less complex challenges but no less a need to find a home, financial security and a support network to get by. People still in need of housing, adult care services and money to take care of themselves month-to-month.
With so much pressure on housing and adult care services within our cities, balancing the immediate needs of rough sleepers – food for the next day and a bed for the night – with those looking to live independent and fulfilling lives is essential, and not just to relieve the system that supports them.
Whilst it makes sense that helping those readiest to support themselves will increase capacity elsewhere, HI Future’s work to address barriers to employing people experiencing homelessness has shown how important self-determination and dignity is in the process too.
Interviewing people who have experienced homelessness and are looking for work, being able to find work which builds on previously held skills, that brings more independence and allows people to re-establish their identity is essential, and it’s here where businesses can have the most significant impact.
Providing jobs is as essential as providing food, and a strategic contribution to build on the tactical work needed to keep those at the sharp end of the homelessness spectrum going day to day. Yet, with so many people equating homelessness with rough sleeping, we’re learning its hard for decision-makers to see how someone struggling could be successfully employed.
Its why we’ve been getting under the skin of needs AND mindsets of directors and HR leads, line managers and co-workers, in addition to learning about the experiences of those experiencing homelessness who are trying to get back into work. Understanding is the first step, in designing, building and piloting a homeless employment solution which works for everyone.
Its why we’ve built a community, bringing public sectors teams from the DWP, charity experts from Business in the Community and Groundwork, and most essentially businesses, like Manchester Airports Groups and Balfour Beatty together with people impacted by the issue to co-create a solution, and we’re halfway there.
Yet, the more the merrier. We’re looking for progressive businesses, willing and able to change their mindsets and approach social impact in a strategic, collaborative and open-minded way to join our growing HI Future community and help us design, build and trial the solution.