Six weeks into 2023 and it’s clear that last year’s pressures are not going away. But there is still room for optimism.
For many reasons it is difficult to make long-term predictions about our work or the issue of homelessness. Firstly, our sector evolves constantly, with new ideas and innovations changing how we work all the time as we strive to meet ever changing needs. Furthermore, many factors that affect our work lie outside our control, from domestic policy changes to global events like the pandemic or the war in Ukraine.
That said, it is still useful to look ahead at what may shape our work and the homelessness sector in coming months and years.
One way to do this is by separately considering our customers, our colleagues and our organisation. Whilst I can only comment directly on Evolve, I know that many of the issues mentioned here are not unique to us.
Supporting and empowering people experiencing homelessness will always be our priority. With that in mind, there are several issues that will shape how we do that this year.
Unsurprisingly, we expect rising living costs to remain a significant challenge. Most of our customers are on low incomes and rely on benefits, meaning that any increased expense is felt very keenly. Energy costs are part of our customers’ service charges: inevitably, with our costs rising sharply, service charges will need to increase. Benefits will also rise in April but things will still be tough.
For those who are ready to move on from our services, the shortage of housing options in London will also continue to cause problems. There remains a lack of council housing, and rent in the private rented sector has risen significantly. Until more affordable homes become available and average rents decrease, moving from supported housing into independent accommodation will remain very difficult.
However, despite these challenges we still expect lots of customers to move into new homes and leave homelessness behind – the resilience and perseverance of our customers is something we can predict with some certainty.
Our colleagues work tirelessly to do everything they can to help people move on from homelessness for good. That is why it’s vital for us and the wider sector to retain talent, ensure people are paid fairly and show that we are a great sector in which to work. It has been very difficult to keep wages in line with inflation, and a shortage of available workers makes recruiting new people very difficult. Addressing these challenges, which have many different causes, remains a priority for us this year.
The gloomy economic outlook inevitably looms large when we think about the future. Almost every aspect of running our services has become more expensive over the last year, from energy bills to building maintenance. These rising costs and wider economic uncertainties pose a challenge for service-delivery, but they also hamper expansion. Despite an evident need, developing new supported housing is a costly and lengthy process which, in current circumstances, is just not feasible. This inability to grow our services in line with demand is a challenge facing the whole sector, and one that will impact efforts to reduce homelessness.
However, there is some good news. Although it’s difficult to expand our housing provision, there’s still plenty of innovation in service delivery. Mental health support is being embedded into everything we do, as evidenced by our economic social prescribing programme. Also, our health and wellbeing team continues to find new ways to help people who have experienced trauma, from physical exercise to virtual reality workshops.
Furthermore, the practise of co-production – involving customers in organisational decision-making – is now firmly embedded in our organisation and across the homelessness sector. This means we’ll increasingly see greater ownership of homelessness services by the people using them.
This is, perhaps, is a fitting note on which to end. Whichever events shape our work in 2023, we’ll ensure that we meet the challenges as one – a united community of customers, colleagues and partners who understand that the only way to make progress is by working together.