The front line of homelessness: delegates meet to tackle the housing crisis

17 January 2018

The announcement of the new housing and homelessness minister, Heather Wheeler MP, this week comes as councils collate annual data which has shown a sharp rise in homelessness over the past years, adding to a national housing crisis.

Southwark has been trailblazing the Homelessness Reduction Act since October 2016, which will come into effect nationally on 3 April this year.

As part of its best practice sharing, Southwark’s Cllr Stephanie Cryan will be speaking in Whitehall at the Westminster Social Policy Forum on Thursday 18thJanuary, in order to share knowledge with other boroughs on what works in preventing and tackling homelessness.  The seminar follows the creation of the Government’s new Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel, with a target of eliminating rough sleeping by 2027. It will also look at how councils will implement the Homelessness Reduction Act.

Delegates, including Val Keen, Head of Implementation at the Department for Communities and Local Government, will be listening, alongside representatives from Shelter, legal organisations, St. Mungo’s and the Landlords Association.

Homelessness manifests itself in many ways with specific factors leading to people losing their homes - from families struggling on the breadline, overcrowding and those who find themselves battling drink or drugs addictions.  This time of year sees a spike in family breakdown, with most divorces filed for in January.

The introduction of Universal Credit has seen more people in crisis and using food banks in Southwark than ever before. Concerns were raised by the National Audit Office’s report on homelessness which identified gaps in the Government’s approach to managing the impact of welfare reform on homelessness. Part of tomorrow’s discussion will focus on this issue.

Rough sleeping has increased exponentially – the annual count, which took place in Southwark last month, found 42 people sleeping on the streets, an increase of 24 per cent from last year alone and a huge increase over the past decade. Southwark works with a wide range of partners and the two leading specialists –Shelter as a critical friend, integral to its service, and with St Mungo’s working on the front line of outreach work to support those in the most desperate situations.

Cllr Stephanie Cryan, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Housing at Southwark Council, said: “I am genuinely saddened by the figures we are seeing; how can it be, in 2018, that people still end up sleeping on the streets?  Despite historically having the third-highest number of homelessness applications, Southwark Council is within the top 30 councils for prevention nationally. While there is still so much work to do, and so far to go, the council is paving the way to the best ways to tackle the crisis. It is vital that we share what we know to support more people across the UK.”

Southwark Council has eliminated the use of bed and breakfast for families by preventing homelessness in the first place, using more appropriate accommodation further afield, but without dispensing the authority’s responsibilities to the families, and also by working with Solace, Women’s Aid to directly support those affected by domestic abuse. The council is currently working on a specific domestic abuse policy in order to lead on the issue when the Act comes into effect. 

Page last updated: 17 January 2018