Evolve Housing + Support is a leading homelessness charity in London, providing housing and support to over 2,000 people each year. Evolve CEO Jeremy Gray suggests why the government should reevaluate its homelessness strategy now the landscape has changed.
Covid-19 has brought shelter to the majority of those who were sleeping rough, but it is also causing an unprecedented rise in homelessness. People who were on zero hours contracts or in the entertainment and hospitality industry have reportedly lost their jobs in the thousands and many are now at risk of starting a second wave of rough sleeping. But what plans for support are being made after the pandemic?
For the past three decades I have been working to help end the cycle of homelessness. My commitment took me from the front lines of support as a full time volunteer at SPEAR Nightshelter, to the Director of Services at Centrepoint and now to my current position as CEO at homelessness charity Evolve Housing + Support.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, I saw homelessness quickly rise to become one of the biggest issues facing Britain. Unemployment, rising house prices and an increase in drink, drug and mental health problems, saw rough sleeping rise again to new heights. The only thing that has changed since then is what support is on offer. We’ve learnt that it’s not enough to provide just shelter. It is essential to also provide a network of support to help people move into a state of sustainable independence. Programmes that focus on resolving trauma through counselling, improving wellbeing and work + learning to tackle the greater and underlying complexities of homelessness and support people to find their feet again – for good.
All current research points to the need for regulated, consistent and quality support at all homelessness services across the country. For too long organisations like Evolve Housing + Support have had to fight for funding to ensure they can continue running informed support programmes that are proven to work. Funding from the majority of local authorities only covers the basic provision of shelter and staffing, despite the homelessness sector’s agreement that we should be creating more ‘psychologically informed environments’.
But there is still time to change things and prepare for life post-pandemic. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick have appointed Dame Louise Casey to spearhead a new government taskforce to address the issue of rough sleeping post-pandemic. The taskforce will work hand-in-hand with councils and other groups across the country to plan a way for people to move into long-term, sustainable and safe accommodation.
To underpin this work, we need to build a robust and renewed strategy that provides real investment in the supported housing sector. We need programmes that resolve the trauma that has led people to become homeless. We need to up-skill homeless people to support them in finding employment and we need these services to be standard across any organisations that temporarily house homeless people.
The purpose of supported housing is to enable people to live as independently as possible within their community, with a real focus on social inclusion. This approach has been proven to work but for the past 10 years government funding has slowly been decreasing. If supported housing organisations like Evolve Housing + Support are expected to fulfill the government’s long term ambitions to end chronic rough sleeping within this parliament, we need action and investment today. It’s not enough that supported housing is kept at the sustained level of ‘viable’ any longer. It’s time to invest equally in housing and support to ensure people are able to break the cycle of homelessness for good.
Evolve Housing + Support CEO