How looking abroad could help tackle the crisis on our streets
One of the users of N=5’s Helping Heart programme in Amsterdam
The most extreme form of homelessness is on the rise in the UK. In England alone, the number of people estimated to be sleeping rough on any given night has almost doubled in the last five years (from 2,414 people in 2013 to 4,677 in 2018).
But eradicating rough sleeping is not a challenge unique to the UK. The number of people spending the night on the streets is increasing all over the world, as nations struggle with their own housing crises or have difficulties funding the multi-agency support services needed for individuals to overcome the complex root causes of their homelessness.
These places are busily coming up with solutions to address these challenges and NLGN’s latest report with Key Cities, Cities in Action: Rough Sleeping, features a selection of pioneering projects being developed and delivered by cities and regions across the world to bring an end to the practice of rough sleeping. We hope that these examples can offer some ideas of how to support people out of rough sleeping in the UK.
Our report focuses on three themes:
- Support for people who are sleeping rough or at risk of rough sleeping:
This is about the importance of preventing rough sleeping as well as helping people to leave the streets. A community-run youth homelessness centre in Niagara, Canada, runs a highly successful ‘Youth Reconnect’ programme that helps homeless young people to stay in high school and access housing services in their local area. In Portland, Oregon, a not-for-profit organisation has raised funds from the city government and major health providers to build affordable housing developments with on-site medical facilities for homeless people with complex needs.
- Enabling rough sleepers to shape their support:
This means involving people with experience of sleeping rough in the co-design of services, particularly by using technology to give them more control over the support they receive. In Seattle, where 90 per cent of the homeless population have a way to access the internet, rough sleepers can sign up to the WeCount app to request items they need from other members of the public. The donors deliver the items to 30 locations in the city that offer support to homeless people, with staff and volunteers on hand to help people to collect their items to access local services if they ask for it. In Amsterdam, the N=5 media company has developed the ‘Helping Heart Contactless Jacket’ to allow people who don’t carry change to donate money directly to a homeless person. The jacket-wearer can spend their donations at partner businesses offering food and shelter.
- Supply of affordable homes:
The success of rough sleeping strategies relies on there being an adequate supply of secure and affordable housing that is appropriate for the individual’s needs. In Melbourne, a community agency has started a project to build ‘tiny homes’ on unused government land to help long-term homeless people become used to living in a permanent dwelling of their own. In Berlin, where rents rose by 21 per cent between 2017 and 2018, the state government has agreed a new rent control law that will freeze almost all rents in the city for the next five years. Other cities are testing modern methods of construction: in Bogota, for example, an organisation called Conceptos Plasticos has used recycled plastic to build houses for low-income families.
One clear lesson to take from our report is that the eradication of rough sleeping will not be achieved under a one-size-fits-all policy approach. That is why our report makes the case that, in order to meet the UK Government’s target to end rough sleeping by 2027, national governments should work in close partnership with the UK’s cities to develop new housing deals. With additional powers and long-term funding, the housing deals would enable city governments and their partners to respond to place-based challenges with their own place-based solutions.