Presentation on theme: "“ Slipping through the net: Homeless people in Kent” January 27 th 2010 Andy Ashenhurst Lecturer in Psychology and Anthropology: Centre for Health Service."— Presentation transcript:
“ Slipping through the net: Homeless people in Kent” January 27 th 2010 Andy Ashenhurst Lecturer in Psychology and Anthropology: Centre for Health Service Studies, University of Kent
Homelessness……….. ….has a spectrum of meanings. Local authorities (LAs) use a limited ‘statutory’ definition, while housing and allied agencies in the voluntary sector have evolved a broader ‘catch-all’ definition. Differing interpretations within these definitions are, we found, at the heart of a dilemma where disempowered clients bear the impact of widely uncoordinated provision.
Scope of the report We sought to gain a snapshot of the situation for homeless people in Kent during the summer and autumn of 2009. To this end we conducted 91 interviews with single homeless people, housing providers, local authorities, criminal justice agencies, mental health units, drug agencies, advice and employment facilities.
2002 Homelessness Act This Act extended the ‘statutory’ meaning of homelessness, with newly drawn priorities. The wider responsibilities of LAs, were to include prevention strategies, undertaking reviews, and closer working with the private housing sector. At the same time the government introduced rough sleeper counts with the aim of reducing street sleeping to zero by 2012! However many single homeless people, and others, still fall outside the statutory definitions of the 2002 Act.
Homelessness Trends Tables 1 to 5 in the report show a steady fall in Kent homelessness since 2002,with a couple of exceptions. These data are limited; providing a picture, where only ‘eligible’ households as defined by LAs are included. Many bypass LAs, going directly to voluntary sector housing providers, where they are more likely to succeed. These large numbers and related trends are not in the data. This reminded us of differing definitions of homelessness, and that accurate figures remain elusive….but there are many more homeless people than the figures suggest.
Housing supply Housing shortfall is a national issue. The current downturn exacerbates existing shortages for homeless people and Kent is no exception. Supported housing providers emerge in a random way. Each with agendas and cultures for their target groups. This evolved patchwork of provision continues to be a life saver for many but clearly needs an overarching strategy and policy coordination.
Service user perspective Talking to SUs revealed mixed views; suggesting experiences from very good to very poor. Experiences with LAs brought the most negative comments, with many SU’s being pushed from pillar to post. Despite this many were positive about their future.
Lack of a system Some SUs are referred out of their home area by LAs, to housing agencies across Kent and beyond. This lack of a strategy to match supply with demand results in patchy, often inappropriate provision, while those with complex needs, who number many, are very badly served.
LA eligibility Many homeless people do not understand the rules of LAs. They are frustrated when categorised as ineligible, are not offered help or not put on a waiting list. All expressed a need for more housing for young homeless people, particularly where they are forced to move to a strange town.
Housing demand We don’t know how people make decisions about where to apply- eg. to LAs or directly to housing or other agencies. Hospitals, drug agencies, probation, prison service etc, are all seeking housing for clients. Much time is spent negotiating with housing providers for clients who have mental health, drug issues or criminal records.
Interagency working Mixed views on this. Interagency cooperation was generally seen as working but there were key problems too, particularly LA delays that lost people places. Benefit agencies too were seen as slow, again costing people money and housing. Those with complex problems were continually referred on. Lack of shared records meant people had to start from scratch each time they applied for housing or support.
Losing accommodation Many lost their accommodation. The main reasons given were mental health issues, sometimes leading to violent behaviour. Borderline personality disorder was also cited for eviction, drug problems were mentioned, losing a job and a ‘tied’ caravan because of arthritis, agoraphobia and depression leading to violence. Non payment of rent was claimed once.
Ambition We were struck by undimmed ambition of some interviewees. Targets included joining the RAF; starting a computer course; finishing a degree; studying for a PhD; looking for own flat; returning to being a mechanic. Others were less hopeful: with worsening family issues, depression, suicidal feelings and commonly “waiting for the council”
Praise for the Voluntary Sector This is a qualitative study. We have not applied numeric data to our findings. We did learn however, that the greatest praise came from people with needs met by VS housing providers. This is contrasted by a majority view that LAs were unhelpful, left people feeling stigmatized, offered limited help or just didn’t care.
Views of councils With LAs evolving agendas it was hard to compare over time. There was a divide between LAs who over provided and those who under provided. Under providers exported clients to other areas. One LA opened a town centre office and saw a three fold increase in applicants. This raises a question about how numbers of homeless people can be known.
‘Suppliers’ of service users Social services, drug agencies, mental health units, probation, the prison service all say young people are difficult to place. A group of middle class people was emerging; losing homes and families as a result of the downturn. Senior staff routinely engaged in an endless pursuit of places for their charges. Consultant psychiatrists on the phone, trying to move patients to avoid bed blocking, various managers trying to re-house clients to enhance recovery chances
Interdisciplinary/Multiagency issues We heard kind words spoken about individual provider performances. There were more voices complaining of poor interagency communication, a lack of coherence between LAs and housing providers, and others seeking housing for patients or clients. This was clearly a problem for SUs and agencies in most areas, and the basis for our perception of a non-system.
Defining ‘priority’ We found that there is a need to revisit definitions of ‘priority’ and ‘non priority’. Why single homeless people are almost always seen as low priority. Who knows what happens to people categorised as non-priority by LAs? There is an appalling lack of provision for the most vulnerable people, those with complex needs.
Hidden costs Many highly paid professionals, not funded to find accommodation are nonetheless spending many accumulative hours doing just that. This is costly and takes them away from their primary activities. Add to this ‘difficult’ SUs routinely being wrongly directed to agencies not funded to accept them, reveals hidden costs as a key issue.
Leadership One theme repeated by many was a perceived lack of leadership. Some arguing for a bigger KCC role. There was some confusion about the role of Supporting People, not so much a criticism, as a need to understand their role – A clarification of who gets what and why was sought by SUs and some non housing agencies?