On Friday 28 October 2016, MPs will gather in Parliament to debate the Homelessness Reduction Bill. The bill represents a very important opportunity to reform homelessness legislation in England. As a Catholic charity working on the front line of homelessness, Caritas Anchor House fully supports the bill, and to ensure a fair hearing, we are calling on everyone to write to their MPs and ask them to attend the debate and back the bill.
Caritas Anchor House is a residential and life skills centre for single homeless adults based in Newham, one of the most deprived boroughs in the UK. Each year, we offer a home and support to up to 220 homeless people and work to ensure that those who walk through our doors grow in confidence and move towards leading independent, self-fulfilling lives by providing education, guidance and personal rehabilitation.
In the last few years, we have seen a dramatic increase in demand for our services, as homelessness in London and the country continues to rise at a worrying rate. In the year to March 2016 alone, Caritas Anchor House received 598 referrals for our 118 rooms, an increase of 13.5% from the previous year. Meanwhile, the latest figures from the Department of Communities and Local Government show the number of people sleeping rough in England on any one night is 3,569 - an increase of 30% from last year and double that of 2010. In addition to this, there are a further estimated 400,000 'hidden homeless' people, living in hostels, squatting, sofa surfing and more.
It is unacceptable that so many people are abandoned by society and left to sleep rough. Homelessness cannot be ignored any longer and the 'hidden homeless' crisis, which MPs have recently warned about, is unfortunately all too real.
We need a step change to tackle homelessness in England and that is why Caritas Anchor House and countless other homeless charities, organisations, MPs and celebrities are supporting the Homelessness Reduction Bill.
"When my landlord sold the property I was living in, I approached the council for help. I was receiving support from mental health services and had to leave the property quickly, but I was not considered a priority. The council turned me away and I was forced to sofa surf, which only made my depression worse." - Caritas Anchor House resident who sofa surfed after asking the local authority for help.
Under current homelessness legislation, people who do not fit into restrictive 'priority need' categories, or who are found to have made themselves 'intentionally' homelessness, are often turned away with little or no help when they approach their local authority. In 2015/16, 114,790 people applied to a local authority for help under the current homelessness legalisation. Only half of those (50.3%) were considered to be in priority need and unintentionally homeless. This can cause undue anxiety and pressure on the individual or families concerned, in what is an already stressful time.
In Newham alone, in the year ending April 2016, 2,448 people approached the local authority for homelessness assistance, of which, 1,345 were accepted as homeless (55%). 198 were recorded as 'intentionally homeless', 286 as 'homeless but not priority' and 619 as 'eligible but not homeless'. In the same period, there were 11.89 homelessness acceptances per 1,000 households in Newham, compared to 5.49 in London and 2.52 in England.
While additional funding announced by the government in the 2016 Budget to support rough sleepers off the street is welcome, it is not sufficient to deliver the long term changes needed to reduce homelessness across England.
The Homelessness Reduction Bill aims to change this. It will make sure that councils have a duty to prevent and relieve homelessness regardless of priority need, extend the time that households are considered at risk of homelessness from 28 to 56 days, and provide emergency accommodation for people with nowhere safe to stay.
If we intervened earlier, for example soon after an eviction notice is served and approaches due to risk homelessness are received, we would be able to prevent further suffering and also save our already strained public services time and money. If the legislation was to change, I predict that at Caritas Anchor House, we would receive less and more appropriate referrals, allowing our staff to deal with enquiries and service delivery more efficiently.
The Homelessness Reduction Bill has been tabled by Bob Blackman MP and is co-sponsored by members of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee from across the House. It is vitally important the bill gets a fair hearing when it is debated on the 28 October, and for this to happen 100 MPs need to attend the debate. If fewer than 100 MPs do attend, parliamentary rules mean that just one opponent will be able to stop the bill and it could be scrapped without even going to a vote.
That's why I urge you all to write to your MPs and ask them to attend the debate and back the bill. This is our moment to change the way we support homeless people for the better, and we cannot afford for this opportunity to slip away.
Keith Fernett, Chief Executive of homeless charity Caritas Anchor House
To contact your MP, please visit: www.caritasanchorhouse.org.uk/hrb or for more information on the Homelessness Reduction Bill please email firstname.lastname@example.org.