Having the safety and security of a house is one of the most basic of needs. Resolving homelessness, whether that is as extreme as sleeping rough on the streets, or the daily uncertainty of sofa surfing, or finding a bed in a hostel, or the constant challenge of being nourished, must be a priority for the local authority. All councils have a statutory obligation to have a clear Homelessness Strategy. In 2015, Derby City Council issued the latest version – the previous one being published in 2010
Much has happened in the last 5 years, but the situation is getting worse. One would hope that a new strategy would be innovative, creative and smarter in the way that it tackled the subject, and was clear and positive in the actions being taken to make a real difference with a simple vision.
Somewhat depressingly, and with an air of defensiveness, the latest publication prefixes its vision by stating that it:
“…was developed in a context of shrinking resources and increasing demand for services. These factors impact on what could realistically be achieved in the years ahead”
-representing an apology, or an excuse, for publishing a document that lacks aspiration. Once again this Council takes every opportunity to play politics.
The vision is:
“for a Derby where the Council and its partners work together effectively to ensure that homelessness is prevented wherever possible, and to enable those who do become homeless to have access to housing that is sustainable and suitable for their needs”
This breaks down into 3 “strategic priorities”:
A – City wide partnership working
B – Prevention measures
C- Helping homeless people back into suitable, sustainable housing.
The implication here is that it applies to all persons who find themselves, practically, homeless in the City. It should not be restricted to just those for whom the Council has a statutory obligation ( which is principally, families with children, vulnerable young people).
Each strategic priority has an Action Plan
STRATEGIC PRIORITY A: CREATE AND MAINTAIN A CITY WIDE FRAMEWORK TO PROMOTE EFFECTIVE PARTNERSHIP WORKING BY ALL AGENCIES
The Actions consist of
- the creation of a Homeless Liaison Forum (HLF) which has been set up to “oversee the implementation of the strategy”. This meets every 3 months. It consists of 10 people from Derby City Council/Derby Homes, and 12 people from a selection of “interested organisations” ( 6 of the 10 DCC members didn’t attend the June 2015 meeting). There were no minutes relating to progress on actions in the plan, or discussions as to why certain actions had not been successfully completed in April 2015. Little overseeing seems to be happening!
- Achieve Gold Standard by March 2017
- The pre-cursor Silver Standard failed to be delivered by April 2015 and was still not achieved 6 months later. Thus questioning the Council’s commitment to progress.
- Various weak actions:
- Monitor targets
- Improve clarity of information in Council House, website
- Develop on-line directory – committed April 2015 – still outstanding 6 months later.
The creation of another “forum” with no accountability or “teeth” is merely show-boating to convince casual observers that something has changed. There is nothing in this section which will make a step-change to the homelessness problem.
STRATEGIC PRIORITY B: MAINTAIN AND IMPROVE MEASURES TO PREVENT HOMELESSNESS
The Actions consist of:
- There is one action which is likely to make a real difference to “preventing” homelessness; that is a planned improvement by the Department of Work and Pensions. A process is to be put in place that will mean that Housing Benefits will not be automatically suspended when sanctions are imposed. This will be very helpful for some people.
- Training of staff on policies and procedures
- Continue existing advice process / use of bond assurances – no developments
- New house allocations policy – priority changes for existing housing stock – this does not prevent homelessness.
- Vague actions to investigate other options – to be assessed by the HLF – who are there to “oversee the implementation of the plan” – not to create it or deliver it
The first action by the DWP is the only one which could make any real difference to the prevention option. The remainder simply continue the existing processes, or address a different problem.
STRATEGIC PRIORITY C: HELP HOMELESS PEOPLE BACK INTO SUITABLE HOUSING AND PROVIDE SUPPORT TO MAKE THIS SUSTAINABLE
The Actions consist of:
- Continuing with No Second, Night Out initiative. Whilst useful to sign-post people who find themselves on the streets into hostels, and other short-term accommodation these are not sustainable solutions for the majority.
- Continuing with existing activities – Case Managers reference group, working with Public Health, reviewing procedures
- Assessing severe weather provision – this is about emergency crisis action during the winter, not sustainable housing solutions
Whilst the existing actions may be worthy – they haven’t solved the problem, and few address the actual strategic priority
The strategy document substantiates the Councils understanding of the Homelessness problem with statistics and graphs however it fully recognises that it only addresses part of the story, and specifically excludes:
“The ‘hidden homeless’ – which includes groups such as those living in overcrowded or unsuitable occupation, ‘sofa-surfers’, concealed second households, and other ‘non-priority need’ groups that may not have been formally registered as homeless with the authorities”
“Consequently, it is impossible to establish the precise number of homeless households present in Derby at any one particular time”
It is well known in business that “You can’t improve what you’re not measuring”
The Council only measures:
– the number of people who apply for the statutory homeless duty ( 614 in 2014/15)
– of the number of those who apply, the number that are accepted as homeless ( 278 in 2014/15)
– the number of rough sleepers, counted annually ( 25 in November 2014)
The Council is only really concerned about one measure – the number of statutory homeless, and keeping it less than 300!
A series of actions which are largely impotent, with no measureable outcomes, most without clear end dates and no consequences for failure, will not deliver the practical outcomes that a reasonable person in Derby would expect.
Many of the actions are to “continue” with previous ideas. Another well-know saying is :” If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got”
If the Council is serious about tackling true homelessness, then the vision should be ;
- Zero people sleeping rough on the streets
- Zero people having to rely on street based hot food distribution
- Zero people sleeping /living in short term hostels which provide nothing more than a basic bed.
The achievement of this will be difficult, it will require a real integration of many services, and voluntary organisations which will necessitate creative thinking, innovative cross-organisational working, and a change of mind-set. It would need to be led by a committed group of cross-City people who have accountability to deliver this vision. A zero tolerance will focus people, and deliver the only humanitarian option for Derby. Achievement of this will improve the situation for the rest of the homeless, or ‘at-risk-of-homeless’, population.
This is what is needed. The current strategy is, and will be, ineffective, it contains no inspiration, leadership, drive and , most importantly, clear accountability It is a series of minor tasks or tactical interventions. The local Labour Party should be ashamed of this – it does nothing for the plight of the homeless.
For the suffering homeless, the current strategy is without hope – it is truly HOPELESS!
Categories: Homelessness / poverty