Why is homelessness increasing?
The general shortage and unaffordability of housing is the critical underlying factor for all forms of homelessness. This is compounded for rough sleepers and other people with complex needs by a particular shortage of suitable types of accommodation, and a lack of support for people trying to transition away from the streets, including a lack of co-ordination in service delivery.
The unaffordability of housing arises from a combination of increasing prices and stagnant or reducing incomes. Recent research shows that in all regions except the North East and North West rents have risen faster than wages. The trend is particularly marked in London. The trend is exacerbated by reductions in housing benefit, which have further reduced affordability.
Loss of rented accommodation (Shorthold Tenancy Agreement – STA) is now the leading cause of statutory homelessness.
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Why are there so many people on the streets in Westminster?
Westminster has an exceptionally high number of rough sleepers. About 1 in 15 of all rough sleepers in England are found here – more than any other local authority.
This is partly because central London attracts many people from other parts of the UK and beyond, as it has for centuries. Not all of these will find what they are looking for, and some end up sleeping rough or engaging in street lifestyles.
People are drawn to Westminster specifically for many reasons; to belong to a street community, to access the drugs market, and to receive short-term resources from soup runs and money through begging.
The mix of people who are on the streets here is also different. There is a much larger proportion of non-UK nationals arriving in Westminster looking for work, for example, for whom solutions are often limited. There is also a larger proportion of vulnerable UK-nationals with multiple and complex needs, who have become entrenched.
And crucially, accommodation in Westminster, which includes many prime residential and business areas, is extraordinarily scarce and expensive, making it much more difficult to house those that need help.
Why do we need a new response to homelessness?
No matter where you live in the country, you can’t have failed to notice the increase in rough sleepers in recent years.
The impact of rough sleeping is enormous – it puts people at risk of crime and violence, causes physical and mental health problems and damages wellbeing.
However, rough sleeping isn’t the only issue to contend with. Last year we undertook a day-time count of the street population in the borough, which suggested that there are at least 350 people daily out on the streets.
Many of these vulnerable people are insecurely accommodated without suitable support, or are homeless in other areas of London but travel in during the day, meaning they are likely to be missed by the night-time counts recorded in official reports. This also means they are likely to miss out on vital help.
The majority of people we encounter have multiple and very complex needs – our assessments indicate that 55% experience mental health issues, 37% alcohol problems and 39% drug problems – with one in six reporting all three.
Many of these people are also completely disengaged from homelessness services – even outreach – and are very entrenched. Despite their vulnerability and the complex nature of their needs, there were no services meeting the needs of this group.
What does West End Homelessness do?
Our outreach workers go out and about in pairs during shifts, which take place between 7am and 7pm. Where we go is guided by referrals we receive from the local community and our own knowledge of rough sleeping, begging and anti-social behaviour across the borough. During shifts, outreach workers identify and engage with new clients, as well as checking in on people we already know.
Once we’ve engaged with people, we work to help them resolve their homelessness through a range of different support services – such as mental health or substance misuse treatment – to encourage them to move away from a lifestyle on the streets.
This is a very difficult group to engage. Our extensive experience of working with homeless people has taught us that it is often time-consuming and painstaking work to build up the rapport and trust we need to be able to work effectively with clients.
How does West End Homelessness work with other partners?
West End Homelessness is a partnership between The Connection at St Martin’s and the Westminster business community, as well as other partners in Westminster.
West End Homelessness works closely with organisations like Westminster City Council, the NHS, St Mungo’s night-time outreach, StreetLink and Turning Point to provide a coordinated response to Westminster issues.
WEH also works as part of Westminster’s Hidden Network, a network of dedicated professionals and volunteers working around the clock to end rough sleeping in Westminster – which includes The Connection’s wider homelessness services
How does West End Homelessness work with enforcement?
The majority of people we work with have very complex needs, and many of them have experienced trauma in the past. Often they feel let down by services; some have had a whole string of social care organisations stepping in and out of their lives and have still ended up in crisis on the streets. It is hugely important therefore that we are mindful of this and that a good social care offer is made, not once, but repeatedly.
Of course, some behaviour exhibited on the streets is illegal, and West End Homelessness is not an alternative for enforcement when enforcement is required. West End Homelessness works within the wider service picture in Westminster, including enforcement.
Why does West End Homelessness only operate in certain areas?
West End Homelessness has been developed by businesses, for businesses. The geographical areas we cover are funded by the Business Improvement Districts and Landowners that have responsibility for these areas, or by individual businesses within these areas as part of their commitment to Social Responsibility.
If we are not covering your area, it is because the service has not received the funding needed to be resourced in that area. Click here to find out how you can bring the benefits of this innovative new partnership to your local area.
What are the consequences of not taking action?
The effects of life on the streets are devastating. People are isolated, have increased chances of taking drugs, of developing or exacerbating existing poor mental health, or experiencing severe physical health problems.
The average age of death on the streets is just 47. Homelessness also damages society – it is estimated that the average cost of a homeless person to the public purse is £26,000 a year, and that homelessness costs the UK as a whole £1 billion a year.
Traditional homelessness services have been limited in their ability to help people who are out on the streets during the day due to their necessary focus on verified rough sleepers.
Thankfully, concern for people who are on the streets during the day is being expressed across the board. It is not acceptable for people to be living with such high support needs and no obvious route out of their situation. This is why we’ve launched West End Homelessness.
Why do I keep seeing the same person on the streets?
The reason you might see the same person out on the streets again and again is because often there are very complex circumstances behind that person’s homelessness, which can take a long time and a lot of work to resolve.
Many people on the streets have experienced severe disadvantage and traumatic experiences since their early years. Severe disadvantage leaves people isolated, often without a safety net of friends and family to support them in crisis.
It also increases the likelihood of that person experiencing traumatic events. The more trauma a person experiences – homelessness itself is a trauma – the more it will test their resilience, and the more negative their view of the world is likely to become.
This is why vulnerable people may be resistant to engaging with support services, and often find it difficult to build trusting relationships. This is why the approach of the SET is so effective. We focus on working at the pace that people want to work at, we build trust over time, and we are consistent when people need us most.
Should I give money to people I see begging?
We are not here to tell you what to do with your money, and not all people who beg have drug or alcohol issues. However, some people who beg on the streets are using the money they receive to fuel a drug or alcohol addiction, which is extremely harmful to their health. Giving money to someone can also prevent them from engaging with services which can help.
We believe therefore that the best way to ensure effective and sustainable help for those is to support local charities, or initiatives such as West End Homelessness.
There are all sorts of other ways you can also offer support to a person who appears vulnerable. A genuine smile and friendly “hello” can be very valuable to someone who may feel invisible for much of the day.
Always dial 999 if you think a person may be in immediate danger.
How can I help?
Experience tells us that the best way to help homeless people is to support organisations that can work with them to tackle the underlying causes of their situation, such as addiction or poor mental health – providing a whole package of support to help people off the streets for good. This also ensures that the people who are being helped are genuinely in need.
Some people who beg on the streets are using the money they receive to fuel a drug or alcohol addiction, which is extremely harmful to their health. Giving money to someone can also prevent them from engaging with services which can help.
We believe therefore that the best way to ensure effective and sustainable help for those that genuinely need it is to support local charities, or initiatives such as West End Homelessness.
You can make a referral to West End Homelessness by clicking here or by contacting email@example.com.
You can also use the link below to find a service local to you – Homelessness Help.