Wednesday 26 February 2014

Ending homelessness together

Arvinda Gohil

By Arvinda Gohil, Chief Executive of Emmaus UK

The annual rough sleeper count, published this week by DCLG, shows that, for the third successive year, the number of people sleeping rough in England has increased.

The count for 2013 showed that 2,414 people were sleeping rough on a single night, an increase of 5% on 2012 and 37% higher than the level seen in 2010, when the first rough sleeper count took place.

This news did not come as a surprise to many of us working with people who have experienced homelessness – Emmaus, like many other organisations, has seen demand for places in our communities increase steadily in recent years. More than 80% of the 600 men and women now living in and working in Emmaus communities have experienced rough sleeping at some point in their lives.

The reasons why people find themselves sleeping rough are complex and varied – for many Emmaus companions, the breakdown of a relationship, mental health issues or early experiences of trauma play a part in their story. We do, know, however, that with the right support people can start to rebuild their life and address some of their difficulties.

Sadly, the rise in rough sleeping goes hand-in-hand with – and is exacerbated by – a fall in homelessness provision. Homeless Link’s latest Survey of Needs and Provision (SNAP) report shows that bed spaces have fallen by 9% since 2010, despite a 37% increase in people sleeping rough over the same period.

There are, however, glimmers of hope. For the first time since 2010, the number of people sleeping rough in London has fallen, dropping by 3%, after an alarming surge of 25% in 2012. This is perhaps in part thanks to the success of the No Second Night Out (NSNO) initiative, which is providing a more coordinated response to rough sleeping by supporting people to find a suitable alternative as soon as they arrive on the streets. As with much other service provision for homeless people, funding for NSNO is, however, less than secure and funding for the project is currently only guaranteed until 2015, despite its significant potential to ease both the devastating human impact and high financial costs of rough sleeping.

Welfare reforms and local authority spending cuts have been the main drivers both of the rise in rough sleeping and the fall in homelessness service provision. DCLG's statistics show that in places like Derby, where the city council has begun a programme of 82% spending cuts, the number of people sleeping rough has risen by 95%. With cuts to local authority budgets set to be even deeper, sadly the trend of rising numbers of people forced to sleep rough on our streets is likely to continue.

Emmaus communities are in the fortunate position of being protected against some of the impact of budget cuts as the majority of their funding is generated through social enterprise. This is not a viable model for all organisations, though. Many companions would not have found their way to Emmaus without the support and encouragement they received from frontline outreach workers or in homelessness hostels or night shelters.

It is more important than ever that we work together to end homelessness.

There are many ways that you can get involved with our work to support even more homeless and socially excluded people – by volunteering your time, donating unwanted items to our shops or making a financial donation to help us to open more Emmaus communities.

Emmaus is also supporting Homeless Link’s Pay it Forward campaign to protect local authority investment in essential frontline homelessness services.

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