Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité: Breaking the cycle of housing poverty (part III)
Why are people returning to sleeping on the streets? Reflections on the reasons why people go back to sleeping rough as highlighted in a recent peer led research report written by St Mungo's homelessness charity in London
Fraternité (Brotherhood) - the need for Community
We were approached at the Wolverhampton Business Forum recently and asked to comment on the following statement:
“I have been told that everyone in Wolverhampton is offered a bed-space by the council”
The premise behind this statement is the assumption that the solution to homelessness is as simple as putting rooves over people’s heads. The reality is however that many individuals who have been temporarily housed return to sleeping rough within a year.
St Mungo’s per led research and report on people returning to the streets of London
A report published by leading homelessness charity in London St Mungo’s following per led research has highlighted the following factors in exploring why this would be the case:
· Push Factors, including: eviction; leaving because accommodation was unsuitable, unsanitary or unsafe; and fleeing violence or abuse
· Pull Factors, including: a sense of belonging and community on the street compared to boredom and isolation when living alone
· Holes in the safety net, including: a lack of informal support options such as friends and family to stay with; trauma and unmet health needs which make it hard to cope with living independently; and barriers to accessing new accommodation such as not having money for a deposit.
· Access to help and support, including: barriers to accessing practical and personal support; prior experience of being turned away or being treated negatively; and difficulty in gaining access to services.
Further details of the report and its findings can be found here.
Our experience of similar issues in Wolverhampton
The matters highlighted by this report are not just issues facing people sleeping rough in London but are similar right across the country:
The standard of accommodation is a big issue locally across the Black Country. It is well recognised that there is migratory pattern to rough sleeping where during the summer month’s people return to sleeping on the streets because it is preferable to sleeping in unsafe, insalubrious or unsuitable accommodation. This comes back to the issue of equal opportunities in housing: the issue is not just about equal access to a roof over your head. It is about equal opportunity and equal access to quality accommodation. The few landlords locally who offer affordable rents and don't require deposits often are the ones who cut corners, fail to maintain the premises to a decent standard and are slow to get maintenance issues dealt with. There is almost a sense of Landlords feeling like a person who they perceive to be higher risk should simply be grateful at having any accommodation and not moaning about it being sub-standard. We have had many reports of tenants in such conditions not saying anything to their Landlord or anyone else because they live in fear that if they do complain they will simply be evicted. Some have been, simply for standing up for their right to live in half-decent accommodation. That said in recent times significant efforts have been and continue to be made by our Local Authority to improve the quality of PRS accommodation across our borough (see previous blog post on why I am in favour of licencing small HMOs - which highlights further both the issue of standards and the councils efforts to tackle this).
Our experience of access to services by our own tenants has not always been the best either. If a vulnerable individual attends the job centre on their own they are much less likely to be well received and get a satisfactory outcome than if one of our volunteer mentors or empowerment officers attends with them. When we are there more often than not they have been treated differently. And there is also the issue of recognising that someone is vulnerable and in need of additional assistance. DWP encourage local agencies to inform them when service users are vulnerable which of course we do where appropriate but what of the vulnerable people who are not currently accessing a service. Who is going to tell DWP on their behalf that they have a learning disability and are not just another problematic and difficult individual. This is not always the case and we were recently pleasantly surprised by a DWP coach going above and beyond to assist two female Syrian refugees who were inappropriately housed when this was not part of her remit. However in our mind these are things that should just not be happening in the 21st century.
The issue of isolation is a huge problem. When we talk to rough sleepers in Wolverhampton we quickly get a picture of a sense of community, hierarchy and interaction between them. They know each other and support one another. Peer to peer support in the rough sleeping community is probably better than it is for many who are housed because they don’t have the barrier of the walls that they can retreat behind. If you take someone out of their community and place them in accommodation on the other side of town, you are effectively isolating them. We are made to live in community and have a sense of belonging. Is it not surprising that individuals are tempted to gravitate back towards their peers and place these values above having a roof over their heads. You simply cannot take an individual out of their community without replacing it with another community to which they feel like they can belong if you are seeking to provide long term solutions to homelessness.
Anthony Walker is the Homelessness Strategy and External Partners Manager with City of Wolverhampton Council and works closely with local voluntary and charity groups. He also sees relational poverty and community as being central to long term solutions: "
When you remove a rough sleeper from that community you need to replace it with something or somebody and the churches and voluntary groups can do that. I think that’s a brilliant piece of work and something councils struggle to do on the individual level they can”.
According to the Church Urban Funds paper on the Web of Poverty, there are three different types of poverty that impact upon the lives of individuals caught in it: Poverty of identity, poverty of resources and poverty of relationships. What St Mungo's report and the above considerations really highlights to us is how important building relationships and community is in seeking to deal with homelessness. We have come to the firm conclusion that relational poverty is the main root cause of homelessness and we will expand further on this in our next posting