Voice of the sector: supporting rough sleepers at a time of national crisis

Front cover of Voice of the sector document
The report highlights what can be achieved when all parts of the public, voluntary and community sectors work together towards a common goal. 

Foreword

In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, councils worked with partners to implement the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ initiative. This required them to work at exceptional pace, taking urgent action to support and accommodate rough sleepers and those at risk of rough sleeping, helping to stop wider transmission of the virus.

Shared learning and challenge are vital to the success of councils’ on-going response in aiding the elimination of rough sleeping.  To facilitate this, the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) worked together to develop the Rough Sleeping Peer Support programme. 

This involved facilitating a programme of 28 Delivery and Impact Panels involving 222 councils between December 2020 and February 2021. The panels provided a framework and process for groups of council lead officers to share and challenge learning and practice to help inform their on-going response. 

This report captures the overarching key themes and emerging learning from the panel discussions and represents the voice of the sector - those directly involved in the effort to safely accommodate rough sleepers at a time of national crisis.  The report highlights what can be achieved when all parts of the public, voluntary and community sectors work together towards a common goal.

The report highlights what can be achieved when all parts of the public, voluntary and community sectors work together towards a common goal.

It shows local government at their very best; committed people delivering quality services, overseen by elected members with a passion for getting things right in their local areas. It also highlights future opportunities to help build on the progress made and maintain the momentum towards eliminating rough sleeping altogether by 2024. 

The Rough Sleeping Peer Support programme was evaluated very strongly amongst participants with an average satisfaction rating of 4.4 out of 5. Participants fed back that they would like this kind of work to continue and the LGA is committed to this. 

Introduction

When the pandemic hit and Government restrictions began in March 2020, councils and their partners worked tirelessly to support rough sleepers under the aegis of the 'Everyone In'  initiative.  These efforts were backed by government support and emergency funding for councils including the Rough Sleeping Initiative, Cold Weather Fund, Protect Programme and the Next Steps Accommodation Programme (NSAP) and one year on, over 37,000 vulnerable people had been supported.

As part of the overall funding criteria for the NSAP, MHCLG encouraged councils to engage in a peer support process, recognising the value of creating space for lead officers to pause and reflect on their work to date and share learning to help inform the next stage of their response. The LGA worked in partnership with MHCLG to facilitate this through the development and delivery of a programme of dynamic and inclusive Delivery and Impact Panels with participating councils as part of the LGA’s sector led improvement (SLI) offer.

Sector led improvement (SLI) is based on the principle that councils are responsible for their own performance and are accountable locally, not nationally. Initiatives such as the Delivery and Impact Panels seek to draw upon the sense of collective responsibility for the sector, where the LGA’s role is to co-ordinate and support, as appropriate.

The support offer was launched at a webinar held on 1 December 2020, jointly by the then Parliamentary Under Secretary for Rough Sleeping and Housing, Kelly Tolhurst MP and the Chairman of the LGA, Councillor James Jamieson.

Delivery and Impact Panels

Delivery and Impact Panels are based on the LGA’s existing SLI principles, providing a constructive process with the central aim of helping councils to improve.  Each panel brought together groups of up to 10 council officers to provide:

  • space and time to reflect upon their work to date and consider their Rough Sleeping Plans
  • a framework and process for councils to consider and test their rough sleeping plans
  • challenge and support from officer peers from other councils taking part
  • a structured conversation to explore and stretch current thinking on each council’s delivery arrangements
  • an opportunity to share good practice across the sector
  • professional development of officers through the sharing of practice
  • an opportunity to identify common risks and issues faced by councils.

Prior to each panel session, participants were invited to share their draft or finalised Rough Sleeping Delivery Plan and identify key challenges, achievements and learning points to date. This was used to inform a group discussion divided between reflections about progress to date and the future. Participants were encouraged to reflect upon their own practice and share learning and innovation with others.

Between December 2020 and February 2021, the LGA facilitated 28 Delivery and Impact Panels involving 222 councils. Following completion of each panel, the LGA produced a summary write up capturing strengths, details of good practice and emerging issues to share with participating councils. An independent national associate, with considerable experience in the sector, attended all the panels to ensure strategic oversight of the entire panel process and prepare this national report on behalf of the LGA. 

This report captures the voice of the sector as they undertook a pivotal role, working with partners, to accommodate rough sleepers at a time of national crisis. It presents the overarching findings and learning from the panel discussions, including a summary evaluation of how it was received by participating councils.

This report captures the voice of the sector as they undertook a pivotal role, working with partners, to accommodate rough sleepers at a time of national crisis.

This report captures the voice of the sector as they undertook a pivotal role, working with partners, to accommodate rough sleepers at a time of national crisis. It presents the overarching findings and learning from the panel discussions, including a summary evaluation of how it was received by participating councils.

Summary of key themes

Throughout the panel discussions participants identified the following positive reflections:

  • Commitment and dedication of frontline rough sleeper staff.
  • An opportunity for innovation involving creative, rapid and pragmatic responses.
  • Support and scrutiny from elected members and council senior leadership teams.
  • Opportunities afforded by ‘Everybody In’ including reframed relationships with partners and a better understanding of the needs of hidden homelessness.
  • Data sharing – strengthened approaches.
  • Accountability for grant funding by MHCLG – councils welcomed the enhanced national focus and funding from Government to tackle rough sleeping as part of the ‘Everyone In’ initiative 

Councils also highlighted opportunities for improvement:

  • A need for longer term funding.
  • Delivering an integrated approach to dual diagnosis to improve access.
  • Addressing the wider challenges in the partnership environment.
  • Managing the impact of the lifting of the evictions ban.
  • Sustaining the current rough sleeping approach.
  • Strengthening approaches to prison discharge.
  • Improving access to social housing.
  • Clarity of guidance for rough sleepers with no recourse to public funds.

Key themes: strengths/opportunities

Participating councils were asked to reflect upon their experiences during the last year and highlight the things that had contributed to the overall success of the ‘Everybody In’ initiative.  Strong common themes emerged and are summarised in the following section.

Commitment of frontline rough sleeper staff  

Councils highlighted the commitment and dedication of thousands of frontline staff who worked at exceptional pace to protect and accommodate rough sleepers during the pandemic. There were many examples where housing-led services to rough sleepers were the last remaining face-to-face services in place, with many others moving to online delivery with staff working from home. As a consequence, when asked in a follow up survey, over two-thirds of participants identified the relentless commitment of frontline rough sleeper staff as one of the most important elements of the ‘Everybody In’ response.

An opportunity for innovation

Many of the panels referenced circumstances where it had been possible to work creatively and innovatively during the pandemic and this was highlighted by over 60 per cent of questionnaire respondents. The sense of urgency and the sheer volume of clients generated rapid and pragmatic responses that would have been unthinkable in more normal times. People managing rough sleeping services had to make multiple decisions at pace and accept more risk as a consequence. Whilst there were some inevitable negative consequences (an example of damage to a hotel), many positive outcomes were reported. Examples include:

  • Placing a client with a risk of arson, but progressing well, into supported accommodation. The council liaised with insurers who agreed risks were decreased.  The client had been rough sleeping for over a year.
  • Reviewing assessment processes and starting with a ‘blank piece of paper’ to follow an ‘understand the customer’ conversation.
  • Placing an entrenched rough sleeper, banned from every hotel and supported accommodation in the area, into self-contained temporary accommodation.
  • Placing two rough sleepers with complex needs into a nightly let property together – adopting a gender and trauma informed approach.
  • Providing under-25 ‘crash pad space’ as an option for young people presenting as homeless so that they could be accommodated immediately.
  • Accommodating five rough sleepers with no recourse to public funds, working with them to develop their employability skills.

Case study: South Gloucestershire Council (unitary council) Creative Solutions Board
 

Our Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy (2019 - 2024) sets out our vision to “work with our partners to recognise the early signs of homelessness and develop innovative solutions to help everyone who is homeless, or at risk of homelessness…” 

Following the outbreak of the pandemic, this involved work with partners to support 127 individuals who were either sleeping rough, or at risk of sleeping rough, into temporary accommodation which has helped to give us a greater insight and understanding of the multiple disadvantages and barriers faced by many of these individuals. 

Our ambition now is to work creatively to build on this work so that none of those individuals return to sleeping rough. To date, this has included using our Next Steps Accommodation Funding to develop supported housing schemes, including Housing First, focussed on the successful resettlement and recovery of those who have a long and/or repeat history of rough sleeping.  

Moving forward, an integral part of our response will be the establishment of the South Gloucestershire’s ‘Creative Solutions Board’. This project, currently in the development stages and due to be launched in July 2021, will involve work with those individuals and families with complex needs that are not met within standard service responses which are based on ‘business as usual’ processes and procedures, and who need a different, more creative and bespoke multi-agency strategic approach. 

This is not for those who are ‘difficult’ to work with, but cases where issues in the system need unblocking through a coordinated, flexible and bespoke response which sees services and systems from their perspective. Membership of the Board will include an independent chair, decision makers from key services and a systems thinker/facilitator to provide challenge. Our Board will be an operational meeting to find solutions to seemingly intractable barriers, with the flexibility and authority to direct resources to deliver those solutions through case-based navigators. 

The challenge is to work together to identify what in the system has produced the blockage and achieve gains at case-based, agency and system levels for lasting change.  Developing more tailored and sustainable solutions should also lead to cost savings in the longer term. 

Contact: Kim Mylchreest, Home Choice Services Manager, South Gloucestershire Council, [email protected]

 Case study: Reading Borough Council (unitary council) Out of Hours Tenancy Sustainment Service (OoHTSS)

A key principle underpinning Reading’s Rough Sleeping Strategy is ‘innovation’.  Throughout the pandemic we have worked creatively with partners across all sectors to harness shared resources to deliver ‘Everyone In’. This includes the ‘Out of Hours Tenancy Sustainment Service’ (OoHTSS) funded by MHCLG’s Rough Sleeping Initiative (formerly the Rapid Rehousing Pathway Fund) since April 2019. 

This service, managed by the Salvation Army, works with clients who find it difficult to maintain their tenancies due to personal/social relationships or because they are at risk of exploitation. Our aim is to intervene early, where possible, to prevent those formerly rough sleeping and those who are at risk of rough sleeping becoming homeless, avoiding the cyclical nature of homelessness.

The service comprises a programme coordinator, two tenancy sustainment officers and a move-on officer. Throughout the pandemic, the team have made regular outreach visits, maintained frequent telephone contact and worked closely with partner organisations including the police and adult social care.

OoHTSS operates over weekends and into evenings, providing support when it’s needed the most. The service has now worked with around 60 individuals at risk of eviction.  Support focuses primarily upon managing money, the client’s front door and risk of exploitation, resulting in the positive closure of around 20 cases to date. OoHTSS has become well-established across Reading’s homelessness network with cross-sector referrals received from accommodation providers and the council’s homelessness prevention and community safety teams.

Key attributes of the service are smaller caseloads, an ‘open ended’ approach to support, dedicated personal budgets and proactive identification of referrals. Collectively, this approach enables long-term gains rather than a focus upon short-term successes and quick case closures. The service has a positive impact on vulnerable people in Reading, enabling them to receive flexible support when most at risk and helping them to feel safe in their home.

Contact:

Nathan Birch – Programme Coordinator: [email protected]

Caroline Evans – Homelessness Partnerships Officer: [email protected]

Support from elected members and council senior leadership teams

Panel participants were clear that rough sleeping services had benefitted from direct support from elected members and council senior leadership teams and this was ascribed to the strong message from Government at the start of the pandemic that rough sleeping is everyone’s business. The circumstances of the pandemic and the ‘Everybody In’ initiative had put rough sleeping in the spotlight and there was a strong corporate desire to make sure that rough sleepers were adequately accommodated.

Some councils reported that this increased focus also brought about increased interest and engagement from members, which was welcomed.  In one council a comprehensive report was taken to the Health and Wellbeing Board and, in other places, councils reported the need to put additional effort into making sure that elected members were properly briefed. There were several reports of entrenched rough sleepers, who had consistently refused multiple offers of support, being identified by the public and brought forward as member casework. One council talked about the benefit of having an in-house outreach team who were able to respond immediately and informatively to such member enquiries, thereby boosting member confidence in the effectiveness of the rough sleeping service.

Opportunities afforded by ‘Everybody In’

In spite of the global emergency that caused the need for the ‘Everybody In’ response, many areas have tried to capitalise in a positive way on the very worst of circumstances. Councils reported:

  • the opportunity to have quality conversations with rough sleepers and build empathy and trust, allowing officers to better understand and meet their needs
  • a better understanding of the needs of the sizable number of hidden homeless with insecure or informal tenancies eg ‘sofa surfers’
  • a moment to reframe relationships with the non-commissioned voluntary sector and move them away from service provision that enables rough sleeping towards partnership working in sustaining former rough sleepers in new accommodation

in some circumstances, the speed and urgency of the instruction helped forge improved partnership working. In other places, it laid bare the paucity of it all, which in turn helped identify a need for urgent partnership development. 

Case study: Norfolk County Council and district councils - No Homelessness in Norfolk

By December 2020, as part of the ‘Everyone In’ directive, the Norfolk partnership, comprising all district authorities, health, Public Health, Registered Housing Providers, the Police and the county council, had supported over 600 homeless people into safe accommodation. 

The aim now is to build on the approach in safely accommodating rough sleepers and those in temporary accommodation to make a lasting change. There is a system wide ambition and resolution not to return to pre COVID-19 levels of homelessness and rough sleeping and a determination to work on a long-term Norfolk-wide strategy with prevention and co-production at its heart. The ambition is to challenge assumption and work with the community to create collaborative support services that are wholistic and person-centred.  

The ’Norfolk Strategic Housing Partnership’ (NSHP) was established in June 2020 to deliver the recommendations of the No Homelessness in Norfolk Plan. It  has a clear programme of action and has been working across six themed working groups to uncover the challenges in accessing services for people facing homelessness and give a sense of what work is needed.  Listening to peoples’ stories and lived experiences will inform the direction of travel for homeless services across Norfolk. 

The People Powered Results team at Nesta (an innovation foundation) have been supporting the NHSP,  supported by the Local Government Association’s Housing Advisors Programme.  The aim is to develop coproduction approaches, role model collaboration across working groups and explore the establishment of system wide conditions for transformation with leaders.

The work culminated in a conference held on 13th July 2021 where outcomes from the listening exercise were shared and reflected on by people from across the sector including system leaders. Quotes from the conference include: ‘The prominence of lived experience throughout the conference has been really inspiring, walking the walk if you like rather than talking a good game’. ’The inclusion of such talented creatives brought such power to the discussion’ ‘I have heard before that poetry fills the spaces between us’.

The next stage is to develop a Norfolk-wide inclusive strategy, agreed by all partners, which will support and facilitate the system change needed to deliver ‘No Homelessness in Norfolk’.

Contact: Trish Reed, Project Manager, No Homelessness in Norfolk

Working on behalf of Norfolk Strategic Housing Partnership

[email protected]

Data sharing  

Emergency legislation introduced for the purposes of pandemic management has enabled a more flexible approach to data sharing. Improved partnership engagement and accelerated service provision were reported in areas where, prior to COVID-19, data protection had been cited as reason for not being able to collaborate. There was a strong desire to see some of this flexibility retained since there is compelling evidence that it has resulted in better outcomes for this vulnerable client group.

Accountability for grant funding to MHCLG

Panel participants welcomed the enhanced national focus and funding from Government to tackle rough sleeping as part of the ‘Everyone In’ initiative.

 

Panel participants welcomed the enhanced national focus and funding from Government to tackle rough sleeping as part of the ‘Everyone In’ initiative.

Whilst some highlighted challenges associated with the criteria, administration and reporting requirements of different grant funding streams, others welcomed the clear focus and accountability this gave them, working with partners, to deliver ‘Everyone In’ and accommodate rough sleepers and those at risk of rough sleeping in their local areas. Participants also spoke positively about the support they received from MHCLG’s homelessness and rough sleeping advisers who re-focussed their time on supporting councils to implement the ‘Everyone In’ response. The evidence gathered in the panel process demonstrates a healthy tension between the strategic intent of Government and the local accountability of councils, resulting in locally appropriate operational decisions.

Key themes: opportunities for improvement

Another aspect of the panel process was to share and discuss the challenges that made service provision for rough sleepers more difficult and the opportunities for improvement.  This highlighted areas for development including challenges for Government, for partner organisations and for councils themselves. The following sections summarise the main propositions.

A call for longer term funding

Whilst councils were clear about how much they welcomed the current increased funding and accountability, participants highlighted challenges with short-term funding timescales.   In a follow up questionnaire conducted by the LGA, when asked about their top concerns, 73 per cent identified the need for longer term funding to aid the recruitment and retention of high calibre staff and support long-term strategic planning. Panel participants called for longer term funding solutions to provide more certainty when planning and commissioning local services. 

Common observations included:

  • small operational teams needing to divert resources away from frontline delivery to write multiple bids
  • the lead time necessary for effective recruitment does not fit well with truncated funding cycles
  • challenges associated with the recruitment and retention of staff who have the skills and experience to work with this complex client group where only short fixed-term contracts are offered
  • the administrative burden associated with multiple grant funding applications can sometimes appear to be disproportionate
  • the challenge of very short deadlines in peak holiday months (inhibiting collaboration with partners)
  • the inefficiency of multiple and unaligned pots of funding.

A voice from the front line: Increased local decision making and more joined up funding processes (unitary council)
 

Everyone has welcomed the support, including financial support, from Government to support those sleeping rough and those at risk of sleeping rough. Moving forward there is an opportunity to achieve more, with greater efficiency, through more flexible approaches.

Our council was unsuccessful in funding applications for a number of critical projects as they did not meet programme criteria. Councils and homelessness partnerships have a good understanding of their local housing demand pressures and services required to end rough sleeping in their areas. Every area has locally specific issues to solve, accommodation support needs and gaps. These often require bespoke resources to address. Grant programme criteria can sometimes be restrictive to meeting those needs over the medium term. Careful consideration of future programme design, allowing greater acknowledgement of locally identified needs and the wider single homeless pathway, coupled with a more streamlined, less arduous application process would be welcomed. 

Funding programmes need to take account of wider local systems and pathways. For example, our local pathway has several critical interventions and projects. The absence of resources for one or more of those interventions has significant impact on the relative success of the pathway and ultimately people’s outcomes. Funding ad-hoc projects without this acknowledgement can reduce the desired impact and is challenging to monitor.

There is an excellent opportunity to sustain many of the excellent outputs for people who rough sleep though targeting resources where local evidence and data demonstrates success.  Failure to address this without long-term committed resources may see a return to pre-pandemic practices, a less resilient skilled workforce living on short-term employment contracts and a return to increased rough sleeping.

Head of Service, unitary council

Delivering an integrated approach to dual diagnosis to improve access

Over half of councils responding to the follow up questionnaire identified dual diagnosis (clients experiencing both mental health and addiction issues) as a key barrier to service provision, where the ability to navigate and access mental health services was a particular challenge.  Whilst there were some examples of good practice shared, most participants said there are opportunities to strengthen approaches and develop more integrated responses with mental health services to support those with multiple and complex needs.

Addressing the wider challenges in the partnership environment

Partnership working was highlighted as a key consideration in the effective provision of services to rough sleepers. Councils recognise the need to build holistic, integrated approaches to address complex needs. During the pandemic, there have been many examples of strong and effective partnership working to deliver ‘Everyone In’. However, within some councils, there are opportunities to strengthen approaches to match the acute vulnerability of the client group.   

Common issues included:

  • how to support staff in navigating local partnerships to ensure clarity of understanding about respective roles and responsibilities of public health, primary care, clinical commissioning groups and provider trusts
  • variable experience of engagement with NHS mental health trusts; there are opportunities to strengthen partnership working to support those with complex needs.  In some cases, often correlating with trusts deemed to be poorly performing, mental health services need to be more visible in local rough sleeping responses
  • examples of robust gatekeeping by adult social care services, setting access thresholds that did not always immediately reflect the complex and acute needs of the client group. Within some councils, this had been effectively resolved by better technical awareness of the Care Act on the part of rough sleeper services
  • in some areas, there are opportunities to strengthen engagement with non-commissioned voluntary services and develop new ways of working together that do not perpetuate rough sleeping (food provision, clothing etc)
  • importance of place-based leaders/commissioners co-designing integrated systems that meet the complex needs of rough sleepers.

Case study: Partnership working in Nottinghamshire (county council and district councils)
 

The seven districts and boroughs of Nottinghamshire have a long history of partnership working and have jointly received Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI) funding since 2019. The Nottinghamshire County Council Public Health Team are a vital part of this partnership, providing match funding in 2019-21 to maintain an assertive outreach substance treatment service. 

The Public Health Team also commission a significant number of supported housing bedspaces and housing-related support across Nottinghamshire and hold an influential role within the wider health, care and housing system. By working closely with the Public Health Team, we have built strong relationships with partners in social care, primary care, clinical commissioning groups, specialist secondary care services such as tissue viability, mental health and substance misuse services.

There are several task and finish groups in operation across the system of health, care and housing to ensure that workstreams are aligned and the needs of the rough sleeping population are fully understood and addressed. One outcome of these groups is that services are delivered at a time and place to suit the population, and also that specialist health and care databases can be accessed by the relevant professionals and information shared as required with others to enable a multi-agency response. 

As homelessness is more than just rooflessness, ensuring individuals can access the health and care services they need is crucial to successfully tackling their homelessness.

Contact:  Emma Lindley, Housing Strategy Lead, Ashfield District Council
[email protected]

Case study: Luton's Partnership Resettlement Meeting (unitary council)

In 2019 an opportunity arose to open a building that had seven ‘pods’, each with four beds, for winter accommodation. This opened on 2 January 2019 for three months.  Because this was a short-term, cold weather project, focus was instantly on move-on and the first Partnership Resettlement Meeting was held in the same building on 4 January.  Right from the beginning, the partnership buy in was strong.    

The terms of reference for the Partnership Resettlement Meeting were jointly agreed. The primary aim was to ensure no-one returned to rough sleeping at the end of the cold weather provision. All supported accommodation providers attended the meeting on weekly basis to discuss:

  • individuals in cold weather provision who require move-on in four weeks or less
  • individuals who are not doing well in current accommodation
  • individuals who have abandoned their properties (for different reasons)
  • individuals who are facing eviction or have been evicted since the last meeting
  • individuals who are known to rough sleep who will be discharged from hospital or acute unit
  • individuals who are due for prison release
  • provider voids.

Because of the strong partnership working developed through the Resettlement Meetings, no person was evicted, and no person left the cold weather provision back to the street during this period. When the cold weather provision ended, partners continued to meet.

In August 2019 the provider that delivered the cold weather provision opened a Homeless Assessment Rapid Rehousing Pathway (HARRP) with five ‘somewhere safe to stay’ beds and an additional 27 short term move-on beds. The provision provides first stage accommodation and so the Resettlement Meeting moved back to HARRP.    

All providers continue to send a representative to the Resettlement Meeting and there is a real harm reduction and partnership approach. When people relapse or are struggling with one provider, they will be discussed at the meeting and another provider will agree a move-on for the person. Plans are made for people approaching hospital discharge or prison release, so no-one must end up rough sleeping. Partners are also able to discuss any voids coming up in their buildings so providers can work together and use any opportunities to move people on and ensure that people are in the right place.

The Partnership Resettlement Meeting is going strong to this day with high attendance rate and a strengths based, problem solving approach.

Contact: Yvonne Jackson (Housing), Luton Borough Council, [email protected]

Managing the impact of the lifting of the evictions ban

When asked about the future, participants expressed a concern about the future volume of (particularly family) evictions pending in the court system and the potential impact this will have on the current focus on rough sleeping. This was reflected by nearly 40 per cent of respondents in the follow up survey. The general view in panel discussions is that the imperative of the ‘Everybody In’ initiative, combined with the moratorium on household evictions, has created a breathing space where it has been possible to work in depth with more challenging clients. Once the moratorium is lifted, the concern is that there will no longer be the capacity to do everything, and it will be inevitable that work to support vulnerable families (with children) will be prioritised over work with some rough sleepers who have complex support needs and require more intensive support.

Sustaining the current rough sleeping approach

As stated earlier, councils welcomed government support and increased resources for working with rough sleepers and those at risk of rough sleeping. However, concern was expressed about the sustainability of the current approach. Just over a third of councils prioritised this in the follow up questionnaire. Comments included:

  • The current response relies on short term/annual funding at an uncertain time for public funding. If the funding were reduced or withdrawn in the future, this would have a rapid detrimental effect on rough sleeping numbers.
  • Will the current focus on rough sleeping be possible once the moratorium on household evictions is lifted? Does the system have the capacity to work with the rough sleeping cohort in addition to a potential increase in families facing homelessness?
  • Whilst it has been possible to be very proactive with measures to bring about ‘Everybody In’ there is a fundamental lack of supply for long-term move on accommodation, especially for those with high support needs.

Strengthening the approach to prison discharge

Some areas reported difficulties with the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act ‘Duty to Refer’ involving prisoner discharges. This involved poor communication between prisons and councils, typically manifesting on the day of release when ex-prisoners arrive on the streets with no plan in place for accommodation. Some areas have tackled this by developing their relationship with local prison institutions and establishing discharge protocols.

Case study: Doncaster Departure Lounge (metropolitan borough council)

The Departure Lounge is a multi-agency response by the Doncaster Complex Lives Alliance to support those who are discharged from prison. 

The Alliance plays a crucial role in supporting some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in Doncaster and incorporates in practice services from Doncaster Council, NHS Community Foundation Trust, Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Primary Care Doncaster, St Leger Homes (Doncaster’s Arms-length Housing Management Company), other supported housing providers, Community Rehabilitation Company, National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO), National Probation Service, South Yorkshire Police, Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and other community and voluntary sector partners.

Doncaster has four prisons, one of which is located within walking distance of the town centre. Data has shown that there are on average six prison releases weekly involving people who are homeless and over double this who are homeless with no connection to Doncaster.

The Departure Lounge was set up as a pilot initially for the Christmas period of 2020 at HMP Doncaster, in preparation for residents due to be released on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Residents can face challenges on the day of release, particularly on a bank holiday when there are limited/no access to services due to closure.

Release planning was discussed at the Complex Lives Multi-Disciplinary Team meeting prior to day of release to ensure all planning was in place including:

  • continuation of any prescriptions including GP and substance misuse services and all appointment times planned
  • most suitable accommodation sourced prior to day of release
  • any further support needs identified, and services agreed.

On day of release the visitors centre hosts the Departure Lounge with partner agencies working together to ensure residents have access to:

  • mobile phones and charging
  • DWP to ensure benefits set up and in place
  • dynamic accommodation placements to avoid unnecessary waiting
  • taxis to accommodation or train station if leaving the area supported by British Transport Police
  • advice and guidance on other support available including peer support and voluntary agencies
  • all further appointments agreed prior such as probation, substance misuse and benefits so resident fully aware.

Contact: Debbie Mckinney, Complex Lives Manager, Doncaster Council, [email protected]

Improving access to social housing

Councils shared different experiences in their ability to access social housing for rough sleeper clients. In stock-holding areas, the experience was generally positive, and housing management colleagues were often predisposed to work closely with rough sleeper services. There were some good examples of joint working with Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) to support rough sleepers. However, most panel participants said there are opportunities to strengthen joint work with RSLs to support and accommodate those sleeping rough or at risk of sleeping rough. It was also acknowledged that, in many areas, there is a need to boost the supply of affordable housing.

Case study: Waverley and Guardian Properties (district council)
 

Prior to COVID-19 Waverley had been exploring ways to manage the challenge of having properties subject to future demolition standing empty and resulting in loss of rental income. A solution we developed was the introduction of a ‘Guardian Property Scheme’ where some council employees who were struggling with accommodation issues could potentially act as property guardians.

With the onset of COVID-19 and ‘Everyone In’ we decided to adapt this model to see if some rough sleepers who were engaging positively with the housing options team during ‘Everyone In’, would be suitable to be offered guardian licences. In some ways this was a bit like a ‘housing first’ model with support from the local housing officer. Since the pandemic four homeless clients have been assisted in this way and have sustained their accommodation. The value of the scheme is it gives a further period for a client to demonstrate that they can sustain accommodation and start to rebuild their lives.

The following is the case study of one such client (referred to as ‘X’):

X has been street homeless for many years and has an addiction to drugs. At the beginning of the pandemic, he was helped into a local hotel as part of ‘Everyone In’ alongside his pet dog. As the hotel was around 60 miles from Waverley, X left the accommodation after a few weeks, partly due to his addiction. However, he did continue to engage with the housing team and was up front and honest about his challenges.

Given X’s engagement we agreed to move him and his dog into a guardian property in May 2020. X has never had to deal with bills and Housing Benefit, so the housing team helped set him up with Council Tax Support and Housing Benefit and a referral to the local drug treatment service.

The local housing officer has helped support X to manage important post and deal with bills including gas and electric meter readings. X has struggled to set aside money for bills and the housing officer is now helping to set up direct payments from his benefits to help him.

X engages well with his neighbours and the community, including putting elderly neighbours’ bins out for them. He has a part time job as a gardener and has reduced his drug use (he did try a medical substitute, but this didn’t work for him). He has applied for a bank account and passport now that he has an address.

The property has been kept in good condition and X has proven that although he has an addiction, he can maintain a tenancy/licence with the right support in place.

As a result of the above and given his current property is due to be demolished, we have agreed to offer X another property in the same area. He will move on a 12-month licence and if all is good after the 12 months, we will offer him an ‘introductory tenancy’ with ongoing support from the housing officer.

X has been made aware of this move and he recently said:

 “I am very excited to be able to move across to the other property. I will be forever grateful for the help and support I received. This time last year I was on the streets and out in the cold; Waverley Borough Council have saved my life and given me and my dog a home. I feel very grateful for the council giving me the opportunity and believing in me.”

Contact: Michael Rivers, Housing Needs Manager, Waverley Borough Council

[email protected] 

Clarity of guidance for rough sleepers with no recourse to public funds

Councils in affected areas said clearer guidance on whether councils can support homeless adults with no recourse to public funds is urgently needed. It had been possible to work with those clients during the pandemic, but the mood of the sector was that a return to the previous policy framework was imminent. A small minority of councils did not think any of their rough sleepers were part of this group of clients. Practical dilemmas shared included:

  • concern about the numbers of rough sleepers currently accommodated who are foreign nationals with no legitimate immigration status and who may have been trafficked into the country for the purposes of modern-day slavery
  • for those clients who are citizens of the European Economic Area, the usual option of assisting with reconnection has been made very challenging because of lockdown restrictions on travel (eg to embassies in London, suspension of foot passengers on ferries etc)
  • many clients who might have reasonably never expected to be rough sleepers have lost employment and tied accommodation without any immediate prospect of turning this around through alternate employment
  • where councils have approached MHCLG and the Home Office to seek solutions for this client group, there is a perception that there is a lack of clear ownership. There is also a perception that despite the risk residing with local government, there is limited ability to influence the national policy on eligibility and those with no recourse to public funds

MHCLG have indicated that since panels were convened, there has been some proactive engagement from Home Office, as well as communications from MHCLG, outlining clear expectations about the need to exhaust all legal options with this cohort.

Participants' resolve to change, learn and set new challenges

As part of the Delivery and Impact Panel process, participants were invited to reflect upon their own practice and suggest how they might change, learn and adapt. Collectively, they identified 141 areas they can change, 205 opportunities for learning and 150 new challenges they had set for themselves. The commitment to address these was palpable.

Areas participants identified for change:

  • Always asking others in the peer group for ideas/good practice.
  • Think more about service user involvement in developing services.
  • Ongoing partnership working with health and social care.
  • Make a more assertive effort to engage with mental health services and commissioners.
  • Raise issues with MHCLG, rather than just respond to asks.
  • Greater level of multi-agency in reach into emergency accommodation to support cohort and improve move on.
  • Try again to engage with social housing providers to increase the supply of move on accommodation and reinforce the impact of no evictions.
  • Involving social workers to inform Rough Sleeping Initiative ‘asks’ and pathways
  • I'm going to be kinder to myself because I realise that most other councils have the same challenges!

Opportunities for learning included:

  • We’ve all been facing similar issues and all done brilliantly.
  • Intractable problems can be solved with collective action and focus.
  • With the right priority, effort and financial support we can achieve great results for rough sleepers.
  • Meeting virtually has improved stakeholder engagement.
  • Emphasis on tenancy sustainment work is critical.
  • Collaborative approach pays huge dividends - people are more willing to have open discussions than you'd think!
  • 'Everybody in' demonstrated the extent of previous service failure and has galvanised partnership working.
  • Not to underestimate what voluntary sector partners can contribute.
  • Don't make assumptions about what change people can make given an opportunity.

New challenges set by the participants included:

  • Continue to engage with mental health partners regarding accessibility of their services.
  • Relaunch and focus on person centric and trauma-based approaches to help complex clients while it is at the front of people minds.
  • Engage more with public health.
  • Ensure rough sleepers are provided with the support they need to sustain tenancies and break the cycle of rough sleeping.
  • Use peers more, rather than see myself as an island.
  • Engage more with other councils outside of our local region to pick up on different/innovative approaches.
  • Think about how the RSI4 funding can be used a bit more creatively; was going to do a like for like bid but may now explore something a bit different around mental health.
  • To form stronger alliances with my neighbouring councils to present shared issues and solutions to members and funders.

To support this commitment to change the LGA will work with councils to develop and deliver a future programme of Delivery and Impact Panels and other sector led improvement support.

To support this commitment to change the LGA will work with councils to develop and deliver a future programme of Delivery and Impact Panels and other sector led improvement support.

Participants were asked about the type of support that would be most beneficial as part of the post-delivery questionnaire. 

Over 100 out of the 135 respondents said that webinars based around specific housing related topics would be particularly beneficial. Over 70 respondents favoured opportunities to participate in ongoing networking events to meet peers across the sector undertaking similar roles. Over half of respondents said they would welcome ‘action learning’ where small groups of councils come together to work on specific issues and work collaboratively to solve problems. Similarly, over half of respondents said they would welcome ongoing peer review opportunities.

The LGA will use this feedback to help shape a future programme of housing related sector led improvement support.

Support from national government

In the same way that panel participants were willing to set themselves new challenges, they also identified several asks where they would welcome government support and intervention. They include:

  • Simplify the funding arrangements so that there is a unified source of funding for work with this client group, reducing the burden of bid writing and data returns.
     
  • Create certainty about year-on-year funding which, in turn, will create certainty for staff, thereby reducing the costly inefficiencies of hard to fill vacancies, turn over and reliance on agency labour.
     
  • Establish a clear, unambiguous and workable policy for the management of rough sleepers with no recourse to public funds.
     
  • Adopt a whole system approach to addressing rough sleeping with primary care, mental health, drug and alcohol services and adult social care all making more appropriate provision for the rough sleeper client group, informed by a client-centred understanding of their complex needs.

Evaluation of the panel process

All participants were invited to complete an evaluation form after their panel session. Overall, there was a very high degree of satisfaction across all 28 Delivery and Impact Panels and feedback from the sessions was extremely positive. The following excerpts are indicative of the overall positive responses received.

  • Participants were asked to rate their overall satisfaction with the Delivery and Impact Panel they attended with 1 being very dissatisfied and 5 being very satisfied. The average rating was 4.4, clearly indicating a high degree of satisfaction.
     
  • Each panel provided a high level of support and challenge to participants who were asked to rate this, again with 1 being very dissatisfied, 5 being very satisfied. The average rating again was 4.4.
     
  • Participants were asked whether their participation in the Delivery and Impact Panel had met their desired objectives. Eighty two per cent of respondents said it had and 16 per cent said it had partially met their objective. Only 2 per cent felt that the process had not met their desired objective.
     
  • The questionnaire invited participants to rate the extent they feel more confident about their council delivering its rough sleeping plan going forward; 75 per cent of respondents stated they felt a lot or a bit more confident.
     
  • Eighty eight per cent of participants stated they would recommend a panel to another council. 
     
  • Participants were asked how else we could improve these sessions going forward.  Comments included the following:

“It was about the right length of time with a good mix of different authorities and good facilitators”

“There was a mix of seniority in the group. It would be useful to know whether the expectation is that heads of service/ group managers attend or senior officers”

As already explained, I use the Homeless Link Community of Practice for networking and discussing how we are delivering our plans. I am happy to meet with leads in whatever forum but cannot afford the time (at present) for a duplication of context”

“was great to be involved and to network, I came away feeling part of a much wider team of fantastic people working hard to achieve a common aim”

“A huge thank you for facilitating what I believe will be a key piece of work for the sector”

“Always want more insight into Government plans if available”