Our 2015 review of the sector looks at the capacity, support and services available to people who become homeless in England, the changing nature of demand for those services, as well as funding and changes to provision.
What is the state of support for people who become homeless in England?
Since 2008, we have surveyed hundreds of homelessness services across England each year to find out about the people seeking support and the resources on offer to help them.
This year’s findings show not only how the sector has changed but also indicate some of the future challenges for those who fund and provide support for people experiencing and at risk of homelessness.
Younger client group, more experiencing complex needs
So, who is seeking help from services? The majority are still men. But nearly a third are women, a proportion which has increased over the past 5 years
However, our latest report shows just how much young people are affected by homelessness. Nearly half (49%) of those living in the accommodation services we surveyed are young people aged between 16 and 24.
The numbers also highlight the complex issues that services often support individuals with. In accommodation services, around one in five individuals have a history of offending, and a similar number have recently slept rough. Three in ten report having drugs problems and/or mental health issues. The issues reported by people who use day centres can be even more severe.
Worryingly, some services feel they do not have the resources to respond to these changing needs, with three quarters saying they had needed to refuse access due to someone’s needs being too high. A quarter of projects said they do not have sufficient staff resources to support people who have complex needs. This raises serious questions about where else these people can turn to.
More than just a roof
The good news is that the homeless sector is getting better at helping those they support into education, training and employment. Services reported that 34% of clients are engaged in education or training, up from 23% in 2013. While 14% of clients were supported into paid employment, up from 10% in 2013.
Almost all (99%) of services now offer personalised support, from life skills support to personal budgets, which are now provided by 32% of projects.
Maintaining essential support
Homelessness services – just like many other sectors – have faced significant cuts in funding. 41% of accommodation projects and 36% of day centres reported a fall in funding in 2014.
Despite this, the majority of services did not let this impact on the number of clients they were able to help. Instead, services reported that they were more likely to absorb cuts in public funding by reducing staffing levels and some aspects of their service, such as arts and sports.
Three major challenges ahead
1. Shrinking sector
The overall support available to single adults facing homelessness has continued to decline. In 2010, there were over 43,600 bed spaces in homelessness accommodation services. Today, this stands at 36,540.
This could be explained in part by the move to smaller services, as we have seen many of the larger hostels replaced by smaller, more personalised and specialist accommodation projects . However, the actual number of accommodation projects has also declined by 14% since 2010.
There are signs that there is little spare capacity in accommodation services, with half of projects reporting they are full every night. When beds become available, over half will be because of factors such as planned refurbishment work or beds being kept free for emergencies such as domestic violence cases.
2. Continued impact of welfare reform
Following the introduction of a new sanctions regime in 2013, our latest report highlights a sharp increase in the number of services reporting an impact.
Six in ten services say that the proportion of clients being sanctioned has increased since 2013. Overall 90% of accommodation services now report that their clients had been affected by sanctions, up from 68% in 2013.
Many day centres also reported challenges caused by welfare reform. 60% said people are having problems understanding the benefits system, and the same proportion told us people are having claims suspended without a clear reason why.
3. Nowhere to go
The main challenge reported by accommodation services was that clients often cannot leave because there is simply no accommodation for them to move into. 61% of accommodation projects said that local pressures on the housing market and limited supply of suitable rental properties were the main barriers to this.
This is good for no one. Accommodation projects told us that a quarter of people currently staying in their services were ready to move on but couldn’t. 58% of these people had been waiting for more than three months.
Not only does this risk the wellbeing and recover of people ready to leave homelessness behind, it also denies resources to those who are newly homeless. Services have shown some ingenuity to overcome this problem, but it remains a real issue of concern.
This year's report again highlights the adaptability and resilience of many homelessness services, with agencies continuing to offer support to a similar number of people despite some of the funding pressures and external challenges.
However, with further financial pressures expected in the coming year and the introduction of further changes to the welfare system, we have to question what more can be absorbed by services.
It will be critical to invest in, develop and strengthen the support available to ensure it reaches all those experiencing and at risk of homelessness.
This is why one of the five core actions in our manifesto, Let’s Make the Difference, calls for a long term strategy for investing in support that prevents and tackles homelessness. This must happen across government, with longer term planning cycles, and with accountability both at a local and national level to ensure the best possible results.
The Annual Review 2015 is a snapshot of what can be achieved through the support offered to people who become homeless, but also the mounting pressures and gaps that are putting this at risk. We will use this year’s findings to strengthen the case for an ambitious plan to secure the future of this essential support.
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Head of policy and communications
Helen currently job shares her role with Caroline Bernard, jointly overseeing Homeless Link’s policy, research, information and communications team.