Housing is not enough

How do we give people who were formerly homeless the best chance of participating fully in their communities? Giving them a home is the start but not the end of the answer.

People who become homeless are very likely to have previously been living with friends or family. We know (theoretically) how to help people who are homeless get a roof over their heads. Helping them either rebuild relationships that have broken down or build new relationships has proven to be much harder.

  1. People who become homeless are very likely to have previously been living with friends or family

As the chart below shows, more households were living with friends and family before they became homeless than were renting privately.

  1. People often become homeless because they can no longer live with their friends, family or their partner

As the table below shows, being asked to leave by friends or family or relationship breakdown are more common reasons for becoming homeless than eviction or leaving institutions such as prisons.

  1. Giving people a home is a great way to stop people being homeless, but does not by itself guarantee “social integration”

The “housing first” approach to supporting people that are homeless has proved to be highly effective. Giving people a permanent home and support if they want it is “recognised internationally as an effective model in addressing homelessness”. However, this approach has “varying results in respect of social integration” so much so that academics have called for a broader debate on  “what is needed to enhance people’s lives in the longer-term”

Where does this leave us? 

Much of the debate around how to help people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless has focused on questions around benefit levels, who is entitled to help and the merits of hostels vs permanent housing. These are all important questions. 

The extent to which formerly homeless people are able to live, work, learn and participate in

their communities as they wish to, and with as many opportunities as other members of the wider community seems to have had less attention.

As the government decides what support to offer homeless people currently living in covid emergency accommodation, the debate should be as much about how to support people to flourish as about how to make sure people have a roof over their head.

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