This is the third in a series of three blogs addressing the homelessness crisis and the changing response of churches to homelessness during coronavirus. You can read the first blog, on the contexts of changing need and changing policy, here. You can read the second blog, a round-up of our webinar with Housing Justice, here. You can explore further resources here.
This year has produced an entirely new and increased set of challenges for those experiencing homelessness, and the people working alongside them. At the same time, a set of unique opportunities have presented themselves in the journey to end homelessness for good. ‘Everyone In’ proved that with the right political will, there are the means to practically eliminate rough sleeping in a series of weeks. Many churches have used this time to reimagine their own response to homelessness through widening their brief to include preventative measures and befriending schemes.
As we look towards the new year, we are again faced with a new set of distinct challenges and opportunities. The recent Spending Review has given us a flavour of the Government’s economic priorities as it starts to phase into ‘recovery’ rather than ‘response’. The longer term economic consequences of the pandemic will be accompanied by the uncertain but undeniable impact of Brexit, altering the way the UK can respond to rough sleeping. For churches who have adapted their work on homelessness this winter, the new year presents a chance to entrench the best of these temporary changes, and re-centre and refocus their outreach work.
The Foundations: the Spending Review
The Government’s recent Spending Review sets the climate and funding landscape that organisations and churches will be responding to homelessness within.
The Spending Review included a number of measures to address rough sleeping and homelessness. Most significantly, it featured £254 million of resource funding to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness, marking a 60% cash increase in overall funding for rough sleeping and homelessness compared to last year.
Whilst this additional funding was warmly welcomed by charities and organisations working in the sector, the consensus is that measures focusing on rough sleeping and homelessness alone are likely to be ineffective alone. They need to be accompanied by well-funded services that prevent people from ending up on the streets in the first place. In response to the Spending Review, Homeless Link have highlighted that without a fully funded welfare safety net, the progress made through ‘Everyone In’ in the first lockdown may be in vain. Similarly, Shelter have drawn attention to the absence of funding for the building of social housing , and the hidden freeze to housing benefits due next year. This freeze will mean a real-time cut in income for families struggling to pay rent, likely pushing some onto the streets as they are unable to keep their homes against the backdrop of an increasingly unstable job market.
Accompanied by currently planned removal of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit, the consequences of the Spending Review are likely to hit many of the poorest in our society the hardest.
These funding changes many mean that shorter term, Churches and homelessness organizations will see a minor increase in funding. But they will alter the nature of the issues they are attempting to respond to – likely exacerbating the root causes of homelessness and leading to an incremental rise in rough sleeping throughout 2021.
Impact of Brexit
When the UK leaves the EU at the end of 2020, we will be entering unchartered territory, so it is difficult to comment definitively on how this will impact the experiences of rough sleepers and outreach.
However, some projections and forecasts have focused on the relationship between Brexit and housing issues. A Homeless Link identified four key areas that would be likely to see an impact: immigration status and rights, access to housing, healthcare, employment and homelessness services, funding for homelessness prevention and relief and the ‘bigger picture’.
It has already been announced that from 1st December, non-UK nationals could face deportation if they are rough sleeping. A large number of organisations have written to the Government asking for this decision to be reversed, but it is likely that the impacts of Brexit will continue to impinge on the rights of non-UK nationals who are rough sleeping or in unstable accommodation.
You can read our guide to supporting an application to the EU Settlement Scheme from someone who is rough sleeping here.
Some Permanent Changes in our Approach to Outreach?
During JPIT’s homelessness webinar at the end of November, our panellists agreed that while the pandemic had presented manifold challenges for the housing and homeless sector, opportunities had also arisen.
Churches can seize this moment to swing towards policy and advocacy work more decisively and permanently, creating a landscape of outreach which addresses the root of the problem and works in preventing homelessness altogether. This includes befriending schemes and community programmes which can create a stronger support network, but also has a strong policy angle. Churches can advocate for a more comprehensive safety net than Universal Credit currently provides, to prevent people ending up on the streets altogether.
Ultimately, as Churches and as Christians, we want to see an end to homelessness, and a world where foodbanks and night shelters simply are not needed. Moving away from an intervention based response towards preventative actions should mark a step towards this.
There are certainly challenges likely to arise over the next year. The political and practical landscape of homeless outreach has changed and will continue to shift as we respond to the pandemic, to Brexit, and to government spending priorities. But we can use this moment to advocate for real change and a shift towards preventative measures. This could be a moment to change the conversation towards ending homelessness altogether.
Thank you for the work of people who are changing the conversation around homelessness.
Thank you for this moment of potential, for our ability to work towards the eradication of rough sleeping and other kinds of homelessness, and for your enduring love for the most vulnerable in our society.
We pray that this moment will not be wasted, and that the challenges of 2021 will be turned into opportunities for real change among outreach workers, policy makers, and the lives of people experiencing homelessness in the UK today.
This blog was written collaboratively by Lucy Tiller and Meg Read.