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The cost of homelessness

Posted08.02.24

The cost of homelessness

It can feel a little insensitive to talk about homelessness in financial terms. Because it is so difficult and personal for people who experience it, thinking about solutions in terms of budgets and cost-effectiveness can seem detached.

However, many areas of London now face a situation where homelessness responses are both overly expensive, and ineffective.

This is not an issue of blame. Councils have more and more residents presenting as homeless, and to prevent rough sleeping they have few options but to house people in temporary accommodation, sometimes for months at a time. They are doing what they can. However, temporary accommodation is expensive, and just as importantly it doesn’t work long-term.

In 2022 councils in England spent an enormous £1.7 billion on temporary accommodation, and that number is only increasing. This places a huge strain on budgets, and what’s more, it isn’t solving the problem, because homelessness has continued to rise.

Moving on from homelessness often requires more than just a roof. People might need mental health support, or help finding a new job. Maybe they need help to reconnect with family and friends, or they have just left prison and don’t have any support networks in place. Temporary accommodation cannot address such issues. In fact, if the accommodation is poor quality, or in the wrong place, or overcrowded, it can actually compound them.

Homelessness can be cyclical. It can cause, and be caused by, past trauma. It can also cause, and be caused by, certain behaviors like substance abuse or self-neglect. These long-term, cyclical issues must be addressed if people are to move on for good.

That is where supported housing services like us come in. It costs money for somebody to stay with us, usually paid via housing benefit. But in return for that expense we provide twenty-four-hour support, as well as community programmes designed to help people move on from homelessness for good. Furthermore, the quality of supported accommodation is monitored. People can report issues or even move locations if what they have doesn’t meet their needs. For example, we have dedicated spaces for people with mental health issues, and for people of certain ages.

Supported housing may be slightly more expensive per head and per day than temporary accommodation, but it represents a far more cost-effective solution because it works. If we can house someone for a year and help them find and maintain their own home, it is cheaper than repeatedly providing the same person with temporary accommodation, or providing it for longer because they are not ready to move on.

Personal, tailored support for people experiencing homelessness is therefore not only the right thing to do. But also the cheaper thing to do. We should invest more into it, and, over time, we will see the results.

Find out more about supported housing here.

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