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104: Homes for street homeless people

Although this report was commissioned by the Office, the findings and recommendations are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Homes for street homeless people: an evaluation of the Rough Sleepers Initiative This summary presents the key findings of a research project by Research and Information Services to evaluate the Rough Sleepers Initiative (RSI). The RSI operated in central London from 1990-1999 and was extended to 36 other areas of England from 1997. Lessons from RSI will be taken forward by the Rough Sleepers Unit within DETR, which is responsible for implementing a programme to achieve the Government target of a two thirds reduction in the number of people sleeping rough by 2002.

Key findings

  • Single night street counts in central London show that, after reductions in the early stages of RSI, since 1994 the numbers have reached a plateau. In England, it is estimated that, in June 1998, there were 1,850 people sleeping rough on a single night.
  • There was a lack of clarity in some areas on the aims and objectives of street outreach work. As a result, there were wide variations in the style of outreach work, the amount of time spent on street work, and the extent to which outreach staff support people with a street lifestyle, including non rough sleepers.
  • Three quarters of rough sleepers interviewed said they would take a hostel bed that night if offered one, but a substantial proportion appeared to use hostels as a respite from the streets rather than as a first step towards resettlement.
  • Key factors in sustaining rough sleepers in a tenancy include detailed resettlement plans agreed by the resettlement agency and landlord, regular monitoring of tenancies, support from specialist staff, action to combat social isolation and to engage clients with employment and training and ensuring new tenants have adequate furniture and household goods.
  • Around 5,500 people had been housed in 3,500 permanent housing association homes provided by the RSI in London by 31 March 1999. Outside central London the main source of accommodation has been permanent housing made available through local authorities and housing associations.
  • The great majority of areas reported that the RSI had greatly improved inter-agency co-operation, although there were still problems to be resolved. The achievement of the target of a two thirds reduction in rough sleeping will require detailed plans in each area which assess the level of accommodation and support services that are necessary and establish the organisational framework to deliver them.

People sleeping rough

There are difficulties in assessing the number of people sleeping rough. Street counts provide a snapshot on one night only and miss some people who move in and out of rough sleeping, but they do help to monitor the relative scale of problems in different areas and changes over time. In central London counts show that, after reductions in the early stages of RSI, since 1994 the numbers have reached a plateau. In England, DETR estimate that there were 1,850 people sleeping rough on a single night in June 1998.

In addition to snapshot information from street counts, it is also necessary to assess the flow of people sleeping rough over time, so as to estimate their need for accommodation and other services. In central London in 1997/8 around 2,600 people slept rough, of whom 1900 were new to street homelessness. This is around ten times the figure found on a single night. The population of rough sleepers is constantly changing and most have episodes of rough sleeping, interspersed with stays in temporary accommodation or in tenancies.

Repeated surveys have identified high levels of support needs among people sleeping rough, with a half or more having mental health or alcohol problems, one in five having drug problems and over a third having combined mental health and substance abuse problems. Rough sleeping often starts at an early age. Almost half of those interviewed slept rough for the first time after leaving their parents home or care. Three quarters thought that their homelessness might have been preventable. The majority now had no immediate plans to move into accommodation.

No areas were identified which had detailed estimates of the supply of hostel beds and permanent housing which would be needed to meet their targets. The report proposes a method for making such calculations, which if applied to the central London area, indicates that around 510 direct access hostel beds need to be reserved for people sleeping rough in an initial three year period, reducing to 360 in subsequent years.

Street outreach and other support services

The great majority of rough sleepers interviewed had wanted and been offered help with a range of problems. Nine out of ten wanted help to find accommodation.

Street outreach work is an important part of the RSI, but there was a lack of clarity in some areas on its aims and objectives. As a result, there were wide variations in the style of outreach work and in the amount of time spent on street work. In part this arises because some outreach staff see it as their role to support people with a street lifestyle, including those who are not currently sleeping rough. However, the DETR has specified that their purpose in funding outreach work is to help rough sleepers into accommodation.

Some RSI funded outreach teams work jointly with other specialist agencies, in particular those funded by the Department of Health under the Homeless Mentally Ill Initiative (HMII). There was agreement among staff interviewed that the HMII should focus more clearly on people sleeping rough. More effective joint work was being developed, along with greater use of Mental Health Act assessments to secure hospital treatment where appropriate.

A pilot project in London to focus work on long term rough sleepers produced some notable successes, but also highlighted the need for continuing work with larger numbers of new rough sleepers. Closing rough sleeping sites can be successful in rehousing rough sleepers, providing it is well planned and suitable accommodation and support is available to people using the sites.

In London, there were difficulties in co-ordinating outreach work which would be addressed by the development of integrated teams to cover defined geographical areas. Other more traditional support services, such as day centres and food runs, played a relatively small part in the RSI. While traditional day centres may help to reinforce street lifestyles, newer support services developed at some centres can play a positive role in helping rough sleepers into accommodation and preventing others from starting to sleep rough. Food runs and street hand-outs which do not link into more positive help with resettlement can be counter-productive.

Temporary accommodation

Three quarters of rough sleepers interviewed said they would take a hostel bed that night if offered one. Most of the rest only wanted permanent housing and very few said they did not want any type of accommodation. However, a substantial proportion appeared to use hostels as a respite from the streets rather than as a first step towards resettlement.

There was a shortage of direct access beds in most areas and those that were available were nearly always full. In some other areas, beds were available, but they were unsuitable because of poor quality, or there were restrictions on access to them for people sleeping rough. Outreach agencies identified the need for beds specifically earmarked for rough sleepers.

A pilot project in London earmarked emergency hostel beds for people sleeping rough to occupy free of charge for a limited period. It proved successful in helping to move some long term rough sleepers off the streets.

A wide and flexible range of temporary accommodation is needed to encourage as many people as possible to move off the streets. A range of specialist support services for people with mental health and substance abuse problems is necessary to help people retain their hostel places and move on to a resettlement programme. There is also a need for a specialist hostels and some of them have achieved high success rates in stabilising residents.

A separate evaluation of the 1997/8 London winter shelters programme found that targeting on rough sleepers and the provision of support and resettlement services could be further improved. If year round provision of direct access accommodation is improved, it will be necessary to review the scale of winter shelters programme required.

Resettlement

Most people sleeping rough have rented or owned their own home at some stage, but have lost it. It is now clear that most need a programme of support if they are to be successfully rehoused and to sustain their tenancies. The great majority of rough sleepers and hostel residents interviewed identified difficulties they might have in settling into a permanent home, most commonly with practical problems such as finding furniture, benefits and budgeting.

The evaluation found evidence that the right kind of support can prevent the great majority of tenancy failures. Key factors include detailed resettlement plans for clients agreed between the resettlement agency and the landlord, regular monitoring of tenancies, support provided by specialist staff, action to combat social isolation and to engage clients with employment and training and ensuring new tenants have adequate furniture and household goods.

Permanent housing

Around 3,500 permanent housing association homes have been provided by the RSI in London and over 5,500 people had been housed in these tenancies by 31 March 1999. There were additional programmes in Bristol and Brighton and Hove where properties were becoming available during 1999. Permanent housing has also been made available through local authorities and housing associations and this has been the main source of accommodation in areas outside central London.

In some areas, particularly in the midlands and north of England, it was reported that there was no shortage of social housing for single people, but there was inadequate support available for former rough sleepers. However, in most areas, there were only small numbers of former rough sleepers rehoused into local authority or housing association homes. The major gap identified was for supported and semi-supported housing and longer term floating support. Some areas had considered increased use of the private rented sector, but the general opinion was that private landlords were not willing to take rough sleepers, or able to provide them with the support they need.

While many people sleeping rough want a self contained flat, there is also a need for other arrangements including shared housing, trial flats where people could try out independent living for a fixed period, smaller bedsits, long term hostels and lodgings. A choice of area is at least as important as the quality of accommodation.

In central London, where there is a severe shortage of social housing, there were still problems over assessing eligibility for the RSI stock. The profile of those rehoused did not match closely enough the known profile of rough sleepers, indicating that some of those rehoused were very unlikely to have had a history of rough sleeping.

Creating a strategy and programme management

The great majority of areas reported that the RSI had greatly improved inter-agency co-operation, although there were still problems to be resolved. Liaison between the RSI and the HMII could have been improved in many areas and links with community care programmes were often poor.

The achievement of the target of a two thirds reduction in rough sleeping will require detailed plans in each area. These will need to assess the level of accommodation and support services that are necessary and establish the organisational framework to deliver them. Neither central London nor the other areas are yet in this position. The creation of the Rough Sleepers Unit has been widely welcomed by agencies and their hope was that the integrated budget for London would fund the necessary mixture of accommodation and support.

In London, it was widely recognised that a different and more co-ordinated approach was needed. There were differing views on how this should be achieved, including some support for the idea of single contracts to cover specific geographical areas. In many areas there was a management gap with front line agencies not involved in strategic planning and no clear lines of responsibility for identifying and delivering target outcomes.

The replacement of RSI outside London with the DETRs Homelessness Action Programme (HAP) was welcomed by some as offering scope to fund projects for a wider group of single homeless people, but others saw a danger of a loss of targeting on problems of rough sleeping, when such a focus had only recently been developed.

Conclusions and recommendations: a future programme

The report contains a wide range of recommendations which cover:

  • the need for local assessments of supply and demand for services;
  • improving the effectiveness of outreach work by focusing more assertively on rough sleepers and contracting agencies to deliver results in defined geographical areas;
  • enhancing specialist support to rough sleepers with mental health and substance abuse problems;
  • ensuring other services to people sleeping rough encourage resettlement, rather than reinforcing street lifestyles;
  • the need for a wide range of hostel provision to meet different needs and to ensure access for people sleeping rough;
  • ensuring effective resettlement services are in place for all former rough sleepers;
  • the provision of an adequate supply of suitable permanent housing and tenancy support services;
  • programme management which will draw up quantified local plans and ensure the delivery of a two thirds reduction in rough sleeping.

Further Information

The publications home page contains information on how and where you can obtain publications produced by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Homes for street homeless people: An Evaluation of the Rough Sleepers Initiative by Geoffrey Randall and Susan Brown, Price 12.00, ISBN 1 851123 39 3.

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