Making homelessness history
Another homeless individual died sleeping on the streets at a bus stop in East London recently.
So often in circumstances like this the “system” comes to the conclusion that it had done everything it could and the man was beyond help. The reality is that if we changed the way we work and changed the way the system interacts with the individual then the outcome could be different. More than just seeking to save the individual we have to admit the system is broken. We must find ways to provide an ecosystem and environment in which there is opportunity for even the most entrenched rough sleepers to thrive. We should not be tempted to blame the individual. Instead we should be part of changing the system and recognising that this is in someway our collective fault.
Homelessness is not evitable. It is a matter of public policy. Decisions are being made in local authorities and at a government level that are causing homelessness to thrive. By the time we get to the point where an individual is lying for extended periods of time without moving at a bus stop refusing any form of engagement or help it is likely too late. We have to work our way upstream and consider what are the issues in public policy that are causing people to end up in this position in the first place. Prevention has to be a key element. If we can put things in place that stop people falling below the housing line in the first place, then we can make homelessness history.
A joined up integrated housing system
That said there will always be issues that mean that people do fall below the housing line which are not preventable. These include gambling, alcoholism, family breakdown and many more. What is needed in these circumstances is a joined up integrated system that:
- identifies people who are homeless at the earliest opportunity to avoid them falling into habits and patterns of behaviour, losing hope and becoming entrenched;
- has tailor made solutions that are adapted to the particular circumstances of the individual. A one size fits all model where the individual is not presented with any choices and has to jump through hoops to maintain their accommodation compounds the problem;
- includes continuous relational support for the individual. We all need family and community. The likelihood if we have fallen below the housing line is that these things are notoriously absent;
- And provides them with meaningful activity such as employment, volunteering, work experience and leisure activities.
This kind of joined up approach is also key to making homelessness history.
This might sound complicated to put in place but it is achievable across a city or a region, if there is a clear sense of collaborative and strategic partnerships. It is not something one organisation can achieve on its own but it is possible together. Strategic partnerships are essential in making homelessness history
In Wolverhampton we call this our unified pathway. We are seeking between the organisations on the frontline of rough sleeping and homelessness to work together in a way that eliminates duplication, competition and rivalry. We recognise that no-one comes off the streets by the intervention of just one organisation. It is when we come together to identify the gaps in service provision, find new ways of collaborating and simply build relationship at an organisational level that we see the best results for our beneficiaries. And the fact that the numbers of rough sleepers in Wolverhampton have gone down is a testimony to the fact that such an approach bears fruit.