Temporary accommodation comes up a lot in discussions about housing and homelessness. But what is it, and why does it matter so much?
An estimated one in 58 people in London were homeless last year. That is thousands of people on any given day, and it is also far more than you actually see sleeping on the streets. Why? Because many people deemed to be homeless aren’t rough sleeping. They are in temporary accommodation (or TA).
TA is key to how we understand homelessness in London. In June last year, 55,610 households in London were in TA – that is 58% of all cases in England. Many people who we support stayed in temporary accommodation before coming to us.
What is it?
If you are homeless, you can approach your local council for support. If they decide that they have a duty to help, then they must provide housing for you as soon as possible. When no immediate long-term solution is available, they may provide TA to cover you until something appropriate is found. This interim housing is usually a flat, bed and breakfast, hotel or a hostel. Some people may be there for a few weeks, but unfortunately others can end up staying for years while they wait for something else.
What’s the problem?
There is no problem with TA per se. It is always preferable to give people a place to stay rather than leaving them to sleep rough. However, there are undoubtedly issues with how the current system works.
The quality of TA varies significantly, so some people find themselves in places that are in a bad condition or poorly maintained. Furthermore, if there is nowhere available locally then people may be housed in other boroughs, meaning they are away from their support networks. Councils will use whatever resources they can to procure TA that works for people, but in many places demand is still outstripping supply, meaning that their choices are very limited. Also, if no alternative long-term housing can be found, people may be stuck in their accommodation for months or even years.
TA also reflects, and in some cases worsens existing inequalities in homelessness and housing provision. For example, Black Asian and minority ethnic households make up a disproportionately high percentage of all people housed in this way. There are more women as well, of which a significant number are single parents who need specific support that TA cannot always offer. Poor-quality accommodation can also pose specific health risks for children, including respiratory problems caused by exposure to damp and mould.
What can be done?
There is no straightforward answer. Greater regulation and oversight of TA could help, but limited budgets and an increase in rough sleeping will continue to put local authorities under pressure. More homes for people to move on to would also help, but affordable housing stock in London remains very low.
However, one thing we can do is continue to tackle the root causes of homelessness. By doing this, we lessen the need for TA. If fewer people are threatened with rough sleeping, then councils will need to use less TA.
Effective supported housing is a vital part of this, helping people to build the skills needed to leave homelessness behind for good. Combined with preventative services like housing advice and ‘floating’ community support, this can alleviate the flow of people needing TA. Local funding for all of this has been reduced significantly, but organisations like ours will nonetheless continue to do everything we can to help. If people can find the homes they want, and sustain them, then the need for TA will, over time, go down.