Commons Gate

Homelessness (HC 61-ii)

ODPM Committee 7 Dec 2004

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Evidence given by Jenny Edwards, Chief Executive and Howard Sinclair, a board member, Homeless Link, Jane Slowey, Chief Executive, Foyer Federation, and Tarig Hilal, Head of Policy, Crisis; Major Ian Harris, Director of Social Work, Salvation Army and Mr Nigel Parrington, Chief Executive, Salvation Army Housing Association, Salvation Army, Mr Paul Cavadino, Chief Executive, NACRO (National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders), and Mr Nick O'Shea, Director of Development, Revolving Doors Agency.

Q238 Mr. David Clelland: Just on the point of temporary accommodation, one of the problems which is constantly coming through in the evidence to the Committee is this whole question of the 'silting up', of people moving into temporary accommodation, hostels, and not actually moving on. Is that a problem which the Government has created by widening the priority needs without looking at what happens next?

Mr Hilal: I do not think it is necessarily an issue of widening the categories of need. I think the widening of the categories was simply a reflection of genuine vulnerability. The Government recognises that these are people who are really vulnerable and they need to be assisted. I think the issue is probably two-fold. The first is related to the lack of move-on accommodation and there simply is not enough affordable accommodation out there once people are ready to leave hostels. The other, and this is something that we do not talk about in the United Kingdom as they do in the States, is related to work. A lot of people who are in temporary accommodation are unable to work because they are trapped by the housing benefit system. Very simply, as soon as you start working, your housing benefit tapers down rapidly and it means that it is very hard for you to move out of accommodation. I think one of the solutions, and many homeless people, in fact everyone we work with, wants to work in something or other and one of the solutions would be to help people, to give people the opportunity to work as well as to give them the opportunity to access affordable housing. I think those are the issues.

Ms Edwards: We have recently surveyed the major hostels in London or those providing services to homeless people and we are finding that 43 per cent of the people in those hostels are ready to move on and are just waiting there, and in fact that means that hostels are not able to take more people that they could work intensively with. The ironic thing is this is not all people waiting for high-level supported housing, but many people need low or even no support and could go into general needs housing, but only 7 per cent of local authority nominations go to non-statutory homeless people. There is nowhere for them to move on to. It has either got to be sorted out by supply, by nominations or there is a whole backlog at the moment and we are looking for a special offer from local authorities and other bodies to help solve that blockage because, otherwise, if the numbers start to creep up of homeless people if there is a housing crisis, then there is nowhere for people to go.

Q239 Mr. David Clelland: On this question about the importance of people having the opportunity to work, in that case would it be better if the Committee were to recommend that rather than having so much accommodation in the form of hostels and temporary accommodation, that we have in fact more foyers for young, single people so that there is an opportunity to learn a trade as well as just being accommodated?

Mr Drew: I suppose I should be dutybound to say of course! I think there are a number of issues though around that. First of all, I absolutely agree that we need more move-on accommodation and if there is anything that is going to improve the situation, it is about making sure that there is single-person accommodation being made available. If we do not, silt-up will continue and I think that is a very big issue. I think, secondly, there is an issue around recognising that not all temporary accommodation is necessarily poor. Foyers are recognised as adequate accommodation with an average stay of around nine months, but actually it is a very holistic approach, as you know, which is around meeting the needs of those young people, including training, education, health and so on. Tarig mentioned the issue about bringing those sorts of facilities into the community and I think that is a very positive approach. Foyers actually work in that way as well. There are different models of foyers and I think making sure that homeless people have access to services, and all the services that they need, will help them to make the transition and I think that is a very important part and is about joined-up working for all agencies.

Q240 Mr. David Clelland: I have a foyer in my constituency and I know a bit about them. You talked earlier about the objective of foyers which is to reintegrate young people into society. Do you have any statistics to measure how successful the foyers are in that?

Mr Drew: I will provide those statistics as I do not have them here. I can certainly tell you for my own, and I will provide the Committee with the statistics for the foyers nationally, but for my own foyer, our statistics are close to 70 per cent positive reintegration, which is very high.

Q241 Mr. David Clelland: What does positive reintegration mean?

Mr Drew: That means that they gain employment, they gain long-term accommodation, they address many of the issues that they brought with them, if you like, when they arrived, addressing things like health needs, education needs and so on, so I think that is a very positive thing.


Q261 Mr. David Clelland: Some evidence suggests that black and minority ethnic groups are over-represented among the homeless, but is that your experience? Do they have specific needs and could you give us some examples of the work you are doing to address those?

Mr Sinclair: Yes, it is our experience and yes, there is an increasing number of rough sleepers, and the population of people in London hostels has gone up from 13 per cent to 35 per cent over the past ten years. The work we are doing, my organisation has completed a language audit and it shows that we work with people who have 44 different first languages in London alone, and that is just a fairly medium-sized London agency. It actually works as more or less about getting to know the individual. It is about individuals and individual needs and working from there and once we start making assumptions about homeless people and we start making assumptions about people black and minority ethnic backgrounds, it leads us into all sorts of difficulties. We have to work from the individual.

Mr Drew: I agree with that, that it should always be about an individual needs-led assessment and about meeting the needs of the individual. I think from a foyer perspective there is some very good work that foyers do nationally in accessing universities, and an interesting statistic only is that we have a particular university support project that runs where 59 per cent of the students are from minority ethnic groups who are accessing university through foyers, so I think it is quite an interesting statistic.

Q262 Mr. David Clelland: How much of this problem is related to immigration and asylum difficulties?

Mr Sinclair: It is and we have done some research that shows that 20 per cent of people living in hostels in London are either asylum-seekers or refugees, so I think it is a very real issue. There is also an increasing question about people coming from EU Accession States and being seen to access our services as well, so yes, I think there is a link.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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