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‘Their largesse is shrinking with their budgets’: Homelessness legislation as a mechanism of exclusion in hard times Paper to HSA Conference University.

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Presentation on theme: "‘Their largesse is shrinking with their budgets’: Homelessness legislation as a mechanism of exclusion in hard times Paper to HSA Conference University."— Presentation transcript:

1 ‘Their largesse is shrinking with their budgets’: Homelessness legislation as a mechanism of exclusion in hard times Paper to HSA Conference University of York, 13 th April 2011 Peter Dwyer, Centre for Social Justice Research, University of Salford Dr Graham Bowpitt, School of Social Sciences, Nottingham Trent University The Multiple Exclusion Homelessness Programme is jointly funded by the ESRC, JRF, DCLG. Data that informs this paper comes from project funded under grant RES

2 Multiple exclusion homelessness? A contested and perhaps ill-defined concept. MEAM (2009) MEHP experience a combination of issues that impact adversely on their lives, routinely excluded from effective contact with services they need, often lead chaotic lives that are costly to society. OUR DEFINITION: someone is experiencing multiple exclusion homelessness if: They combine a current, or recent (i.e. within the last 12 months), experience of homelessness (broadly defined to include rough sleeping, living in emergency or insecure accommodation), with one or more indicators of deep social exclusion. For example, problematic substance use, chronic ill health (mental or physical), long-term unemployment, or transitions in institutional public duties of care. They routinely live in poverty and often lack, for a variety of reasons, supportive close or familial relationships. 2

3 Researching MEH: an abductive, user participatory approach Research considered Background and trigger factors that lead to homelessness Strategies for surviving homelessness Encounters between homeless people and support services Recruitment and training of formerly homeless volunteers as peer researchers Input into research design, conduct interviews with homeless people alongside academic researchers, input via analysis workshops 108 semi structured interviews with MEHP 55 Nottingham, 53 London; 74 male, 34 female 44 interviews with key informants 24 Nottingham, 20 London; 14 Executive/managerial, 30 frontline Working in 40 organisations (12 public sector, 28 voluntary sector) Abductive data gathering and analysis of interview transcripts 3

4 Characteristics of the MEHP sample 4

5 What rights do homeless people have? Under various statutes, local authorities have duties towards people who – Are homeless – Are in ‘priority need’ – Have done nothing to make themselves homeless – Have a ‘local connection’ to the borough in which the application is being made The duties involve – Providing advice and assistance to all homeless households – Providing temporary accommodation to those in priority need – Providing permanent accommodation to unintentionally homeless households in priority need and with a local connection 5

6 Overview of experiences of our homeless respondents who requested help 35 reported declaring themselves homeless to a local authority at least once under the legislation. 9 were accommodated 7 were judged to be owed a duty 2 were housed even though they did not appear to be owed a duty 5 deemed not to be homeless 7 seen as not in priority need 5 judged to have made themselves intentionally homeless 12 viewed as having no local connection 6

7 Who is homeless? Housing Act (1996) households are homeless if they Have no accommodation, either – At all, or – Which members can occupy together, or – Which they have a right to occupy, or – Which they can reasonably occupy Are unable to access accommodation Have nowhere to put a movable home Accommodation may be unreasonable – Physical condition; unsuitability; violence; unaffordability; overcrowding; insecurity 7

8 Why were some of our respondents judged not to not homeless? In all cases, respondents were deemed still to be accommodated because of inadequate evidence to the contrary, e.g. Woman with abusive partner who changed the locks on a house she still owned – “They (the Council) turned me away because I’d got my own house. ‘I can’t get in’, and she said, ‘Well you’ll have to get your keys off your ex-husband.’ I said, ‘I can’t because I don’t know where he lives’. ‘Sorry but you’ve got your own house there’s nothing we can do.’” (N45, Nottingham) Man unable to prove he’d been evicted by his family – “You go to them (the Council), explain the situation and they are like, ‘We can’t do anything without proof. You need to go back to your family and get a letter from them saying you have got kicked out.’ They don’t want anything to do with me so how am I expected to get a letter?” (L40, London) 8

9 Key informants endorse the reported experiences of those judge not to be homeless Experience of women fleeing DV confirmed “Women flee and the Housing Associations or the Local Authority look at them as having abandoned the property rather than getting rid of him because he’s the perpetrator of violence and of course a lot of women don’t want to go to court, so it then becomes an issue about whether the woman has left because of violence or because of other reasons.” (LKI 10, Women’s housing organisation, London) Others confirmed the struggle to be believed “I’m sure their scepticism is born out of the fact that they simply don’t have a plague (?) of council houses to hand the keys out to people. They do have a very limited resource and a lot of people asking for that resource. They’ve got to find some kind of method to discriminate between the very needy and not so needy … That seems to have kind of mutated into an attitude of ‘we don’t believe anybody”. (LKI 11, Welfare rights project, London) 9

10 Priority need Under the legislation, priority need groups include the following: – Pregnant women; – Households with children; – ‘Vulnerable’ people; – Victims of fire or flood An applicant may be vulnerable for the following reasons: – Ill-health or disability – Risk of violence or harassment – Under 18 – and a care leaver – Having spent time in prison, the armed forces or local authority care 10

11 Homeless respondents who were judged not to be in priority need Mostly because they were single and unable to prove vulnerability, despite Mental illness “Because I wasn’t pregnant, I wasn’t priority. That’s what they (the Council) came out with. If I was pregnant, obviously I would have been a priority and I would have had a bed for the night. Unfortunately, I was on the streets … They don’t consider you’ve had mental health problems.” (N03, Nottingham, female) Drink problems “They (the Council) don’t look at it that way (treating people as ‘vulnerable’), because you can always get help for a drink problem. For physical or a mental issue, you can’t. Theoretically you can’t really get a lot of help because it’s something that’s already happened. But alcoholism you can change, you can change it.” (N33, Nottingham, male) Domestic violence “I left my sister’s place because of the problems I had and they (the Council) said I need to book an appointment and I need to speak to someone on the phone … I tried to explain to the person that I am homeless at that time, right now. But they didn’t really care … They said you are not pregnant, you don’t have any issues like mental issues so we can’t help you.” (L35, London, female) 11

12 Insights from key informants on priority need Some suggested DV is not enough in itself “Unless you can show a vulnerability on top of domestic violence then they have no right to be housed... They won’t be considered to be a priority need. Domestic violence itself is seen as a vulnerability, but they will only become priority need if they can show that they’ve got another vulnerability as well. So it would only be if we had somebody who had mental health issues or disability or was elderly or whatever.” (LKI 10, Women’s housing organisation, London) But there were tensions with the views of council officials “We would prioritise our own rough sleepers first. Beyond that, if we had two people and they were both rough sleeping but the guy who came from (elsewhere) was significantly in a position of additional disadvantage - let’s say he had deep vein thrombosis and other medical problems - that the other rough sleeper did not have, we would prioritise by need first.” (NKI 9 LA housing manager) 12

13 Intentional homelessness A person becomes intentionally homeless if he deliberately does or fails to do anything in consequence of which he ceases to occupy accommodation which is available for his occupation and which it would have been reasonable for him to continue to occupy (Housing Act (1996) s.191) A deliberate act or failure to act As a consequence accommodation ceases to be occupied The accommodation was available to be occupied by the person It was reasonable for him to continue to occupy the accommodation 13

14 Deemed to be intentionally homeless Abandonment /fleeing for fear of death “I had my own flat and because I was dealing for the wrong type of people and I got into a lot of debt over it and it was either leave my flat or get shot. It was really that steep. So like when I moved out of there, because I came out of it myself, instead of getting kicked out or getting moved, they (the Council) wouldn’t actually move me straight away. They turned round and said, ‘Look there’s nothing we can do because nothing has happened’. My windows had been through and everything and there had been a couple of bullets going through them as well, but there was nothing they could have done.” (N39, Nottingham, male) Account of illegal eviction not believed by the Council She [private landlady]actually went to the Council herself and said we voluntarily made ourselves homeless. Covered her back. That’s why the Council wouldn’t give us a flat. They wouldn’t even put us up in a half way house. Nothing. For 7 and a half years I lived under a bush in a graveyard. (L3 male London) 14

15 Intentionally homeless People who abandon are treated as intentionally homeless “I can see (Council’s) point of view that they’ve found them a bed but it’s just not appropriate and they make themselves voluntarily homeless because they can’t stay there and obviously (Council) won’t look at them because they’ve made themselves voluntarily homeless.” (NKI24, Drug interventions team, Nottingham) Intentionally homeless due to conviction You have committed an offence, you have gone to prison, that’s lost you your home so you are homeless intentionally because you committed an offence so it’s a legitimate finding under homelessness law but we would often question those decisions (LKI 14 Housing support manager, ex-offenders project) Substance dependency non payment of rent If you look at a lot of this group drug users why they have difficulty getting housing is because they are considered to have made themselves at some stage in the past intentionally homeless because they have been given money to spend on rent and have spent it on something else. (LKI 3 clinical lead drugs/alcohol team) 15

16 Local connection Establishing a local connection: is often the key to unlocking which LA has a duty to provide accommodation Decisions based on: former voluntary residence in the area; current employment; family associations; other special circumstances. Unable to establish a local connection no duty owed “I don’t know anybody in the borough. I ain’t got a doctor. Not on the electoral roll. Until I get a doctor I’m not good to no-one. I don’t want a flat in Liverpool … You have to be on the electoral roll before you get a flat. You can’t get any accommodation unless you’ve got a doctor.” (L48, London, male) “I came back down here and the City Council tried to tell me I had no local connection. I was born here but because I’d been away for more than five years, even though some of that was in jail and other things, I was back down here in the same situation as I was up there (Manchester).” (N41, Nottingham, male) 16

17 Local connection in action How it appears to work Local connections is another big issue. The local authority are closing ranks. Their largesse is shrinking with their budgets. That is effectively what’s happening. They are employing statutes to limit the availability of housing to people outside their locality. So we frequently challenge that decision (NKI 7 Probation officer) If you haven’t got a local connection they won’t take responsibility for you. Obviously you can fight that, you can argue that. Its very difficult to prove some points of local connection. (NKI 10 Day centre worker) How it’s supposed to work You can’t be turned down for accommodation because you don’t have a local connection. What they (the Council) have to do is assess you, make a definition of whether you are in priority need, provide you with a resource while they connect you back to the borough where your local connection is. They can’t just say even though you are in priority need … this isn’t your local connection area, so clear off. (LKI 13, Homelessness co-ordination organisation, London) 17

18 Conclusions and potential ways forward Single, multiply excluded homeless people are still treated as ‘non-priority’ by Councils exacerbating MEH Fleeing violence is appears to be no protection against being regarded as ‘intentionally homeless’ Councils still turn people away who have no ‘local connection’, despite assertions to the contrary. The Coalition’s Localism agenda is likely to reinforce exclusive elements of policy i.e. no local connection Regional and Pan London approaches? Circumventing the rules for some of the most excluded e.g. 205, personalisation approaches for the most excluded The measures to extend statutory rights currently being adopted in Scotland should be extended to England on an experimental basis, as the only effective response to the housing aspect of multiple exclusion homelessness. 18


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