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Addressing Homelessness in the United Kingdom

Image of Cynthia Campbell, Director of PD&R's International and Philanthropic Affairs Division.Cynthia Campbell, Director of PD&R's International and Philanthropic Affairs Division.

I recently read a report on the United Kingdom’s new Rough Sleeping Strategy to combat homelessness, and it struck me that the United Kingdom faces many issues that are similar to those in the United States. Both nations are undertaking efforts to document, understand, and reduce homelessness. As with the annual Point-in-Time count held each January in the United States, the United Kingdom conducts an overnight homelessness count every year on one night in December. Homelessness in the United Kingdom is on the rise: 2017 marked the seventh consecutive year in which the homelessness rate increased. The December 2017 homelessness count identified an estimated 4,751 individuals, a 15 percent increase over the December 2016 count. The city of London accounted for one-quarter of the total count.

In response to this growing problem, the government assembled an expert advisory panel. The Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government then issued the Rough Sleeping Strategy report, which was presented to Parliament in August 2018 and discusses the government’s strategy to address the nation’s growing homelessness problem. The report outlines a three-pronged approach to eliminating and preventing further homelessness: Prevention, Intervention, and Recovery. The government’s goal is to cut the number of individuals experiencing homelessness in half by 2022 and eliminate homelessness by 2027. The UK government has committed £100 million in the next 2 years alone to address the issue. Along with the government’s commitment to address homelessness is a commitment to increase the affordable housing stock. The UK government is providing £9 billion to fund affordable housing projects, including an increase in council (social-public) housing.

Preventing homelessness is a key pillar of the new program. One of the most significant issues is homelessness among those who have recently been released from prison. To address this problem, the government has authorized £2.3 million to fund supportive service programs to help formerly incarcerated individuals find rental units quickly.

Many interventions have been announced, including increased funding for existing programs. The government has authorized £45 million to continue work on intervention programs, including hiring 500 additional caseworkers. The United Kingdom is increasing rapid rehousing initiatives, including increased funding for homelessness “navigators,” who help intervene on the street, and for training. Funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment has also increased. The government recently reversed a 2015 policy that eliminated housing assistance for 18- to 21-year-olds out of fear that it would dramatically increase youth homelessness.

A new pilot program under the Intervention strategy, Somewhere Safe to Stay, builds on the work of the No Second Night Out program, which focused on individuals experiencing homelessness who were new to the streets. Caseworkers known as rough sleeping navigators worked directly with those experiencing homelessness to address the specific issue that caused their homelessness, such as finances, a relationship breakdown, or the loss or inability to find a job. The program showed substantial results, with 84 percent of those participating in the program becoming able to stay off the streets for the following year.

The United Kingdom is also addressing the increased need for mental health services. The National Health Service will increase the number of patients they can treat by 1 million per year by 2021 and increase the number of mental healthcare workers by 21,000. This is a significant increase in capacity for the healthcare system.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government will continue to provide £300,000 annually to support the StreetLink service program. StreetLink was created in 2012 as a platform for local citizens to report individuals experiencing homelessness in their neighborhood through the StreetLink website or app, which alerts local authorities to the location of those in need of help. A coach is then sent to intervene and offer assistance. Since 2012, outreach teams assisted more than 26,000 people, more than 22,000 of whom were linked to shelters and services.

The Recovery strategy centers on maintaining a stable home. The UK government will focus on increasing the nation’s affordable housing stock. Affordable housing remains a priority, and the government’s goal is to add 23,000 affordable housing units through a £1.67 billion investment fund, part of the larger £9 billion fund mentioned above. The other major project will be a £28 million Housing First initiative with three new pilot projects. Supportive housing will also continue to receive funding. The government is renewing its focus on employment, including establishing work “coaches” to help those experiencing homelessness navigate employment opportunities at government-operated Jobcentre Plus offices.

The United Kingdom is taking a proactive stance on addressing homelessness with the lofty goal of eliminating homelessness by 2027.