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For the past five years the number of homeless people in the UK has been rising, with Crisis estimating that up to 200,000 families and individuals are now experiencing the most severe forms of homelessness, including rough sleeping.
Although temporary housing was available during the first few weeks of the pandemic, many people have now found themselves back on the streets. The ban on evictions put in place to protect tenants has now been lifted, and Covid-related job losses have increased the threat of homelessness.
According to the latest government figures, 68,250 English households approached councils for ermergency housing support between January and March 2021, indicating that the issue is showing no signs of abating. Many circumstances can lead to homelessness, including relationship breakdowns, fleeing domestic violence, job loss and eviction, but emergency housing services are reserved for people who have suddenly been made homeless and are deemed to be most at risk. For local councils they include care leavers, people with mental health conditions, veterans, pregnant women and those living with disabilities.
Challenges in finding accommodation
Local authorities have a responsibility to ensure residents are housed as quickly as possible in a safe, secure environment. Due to the increasing demand, resources are becoming more and more stretched, and many cases can be complex and difficult to manage from start to finish. Councils work closely with social workers to arrange the right emergency housing and often have to manage distressed, vulnerable people during the interim period.
They are also faced with numerous logistical challenges, which can take time to resolve. In addition to finding housing, it must be suitable for the individual and their needs. For example, a wheelchair user or person with certain medical needs would require access to a working lift or ground floor apartment. If they became locked out of a building due to a technical fault, this issue would need solving extremely quickly. Other individuals may have certain religious requirements, or there might be safeguarding issues. Emergency housing has been even more complicated by the pandemic due to the isolation requirements of different individuals and accommodation blocks. Meanwhile councils are struggling to find permanent accommodation, creating bottlenecks for emergency services.
Managing the demand
Emergency out of hours services within councils can be costly and logistically difficult to operate, and not every local authority is equipped with the staff trained to manage the calls that come in. Councils need the ability to upscale the services they have on offer, ensuring that everyone is able to access a seamless service, no matter what time of the day or night they call. They may wish to consider partnering with emergency out of hours services, retraining staff on the ways these callers can be supported and streamlining processes to meet individuals’ needs more quickly. Call handlers should be following scripts in every situation so that the service remains consistent and covers every base with residents. Local authorities can work with outside organisations to develop these, tailoring them exactly to their needs. For example, in an area with a high refugee population, it may be important to offer more translation options.
Investment in technology can also help local councils to better support their residents. From housing portals to call logs and apps that can link voluntary groups with housing managers, new innovations are constantly developing and could be a key tool in helping to manage the ongoing crisis. In addition, technology can help to support residents through the right channels, meaning they’re contacting the right part of the system immediately.
As government support for those impacted by the pandemic comes to an end, homelessness is likely to continue to increase. In order to meet growing demand, councils will need to collaborate with other organisations to ensure that vulnerable residents can reach emergency services at all times.
Commercial Manager and Joint Out of Hours Partnership Lead Manager at Ealing Council
Michelle has over 30 years’ experience in local government and works for Ealing Council as Commercial Manager and representing all of the current public sector partners of the Joint Out of Hours Partnership.