Comment Blog 15 May, 2019

Preventing homelessness is everybody’s business

Homelessness is not inevitable. We know that in most cases it is preventable, and in every case it can be ended.

The case for prevention is clear. Failing to take action early can lead to people experiencing repeated and entrenched periods of homelessness. This has a serious impact on people’s mental and physical health, as well as a knock-on cost for public services.

Preventing homelessness for young people is even more critical. We know that the earlier someone becomes homeless, the more likely it is that they will have five or more experiences of homelessness.

We also know which groups of young people are most at risk of becoming homeless. So there really are no excuses for not taking action early to respond to the warning signs of youth homelessness to stop it happening in the first place.

Reform’s new report, 'Preventing youth homelessness: an assessment of local approaches', sets out what needs to change to make this happen.

It includes actions for a wide range of public bodies – from the local housing authority, who continue to hold the primary responsibility for preventing homelessness, to schools, GPs and the police.

This reflects the reality that in most cases the local housing authority won’t be the first organisation that is aware when someone is at risk of homelessness. It is other public bodies, especially schools, colleges and leaving care teams who already work closely with young people, who are much better placed to take on this role.

The Geelong Project in Australia shows the impact that involving schools and community agencies in preventing homelessness can have. Through the pilot young people identified as being at risk of homelessness are provided with a dedicated support worker to make sure they can access the specialist support they need, from education and employment to mental health and drug and alcohol services.

An evaluation of the first three years of the pilot showed it had a significant impact on preventing homelessness. Between 2013 and 2016 the number of young people entering the Specialist Homelessness Service system declined by 40 per cent. In 2016, 80 per cent of young people presenting as homeless were from areas and schools not included in the pilot – this is especially significant as the three pilot schools were chosen because about 60 per cent of young homeless people had been coming from these areas.

This way of working must become the norm so no one is needlessly pushed into homelessness. This will only be possible if every part of government, from the Department of Education to the Home Office, takes responsibility for preventing homelessness.

In Crisis’ ‘Preventing Homelessness’ report, we set out the changes that departments should be making now to prevent homelessness earlier for as many people as possible. This must be backed up by a strong cross-government strategy and robust legal duties, which recognise the critical role of every department in ending homelessness.

To end homelessness for good, preventing it must become the business of every part of government.