Preventing homelessness

In late April, changes to the Welsh Housing Act of 2014 were enacted which require authorities to take all reasonable actions to prevent people from becoming homeless.

If someone is in danger of losing their home within 56 days, councils now have to make use of private rented accommodation where necessary and work with housing associations to keep that person off the streets. The Welsh government has said that it is “the most fundamental reform to homelessness legislation in over 30 years”.

As we look to the future, we should remember those who need society’s support the most. We should help people who are homeless right now, but we should also try to ensure that fewer people become homeless in the future.

Prevention isn’t just a moral imperative, it also saves us money and effort in the long run. People who have slipped through the safety net and hit rock bottom need medical, social and financial support, which costs our public services. The longer someone stays homeless, the more help they need pulling themselves out of their situation. Taking the necessary steps to prevent this from happening isn’t just feasible but beneficial for everyone.

De Paul UK is a homelessness charity offering a prevention service called ‘Reconnect’ which provides families with mediation support, school workshops and parenting classes. These services help families to communicate effectively about difficult subjects without shouting or arguing. Family breakdown is one of the main causes of entrenched homelessness and the aim of Reconnect is to prevent this from happening.

Reconnect has been implemented in various places throughout the UK, including London, Kent and the broader Northern area. In a cost-benefit analysis of Oldham Reconnect, the service is credited with saving the local authority over £1,215,000 by supporting young people who would likely have needed accommodation or social care. Given the fragile status of the UK economy, it’s too costly to not implement homelessness prevention.

A study by the charity Shelter has found that half of parents believe that their children will never own a home without collecting inheritance. This shows the psychological effect of the housing crisis. Nobody likes the thought that they will have to lose their parents to be able to buy a home. It can be a vicious cycle: economic strife causes tension in families, while family breakdown perpetuates entrenched homelessness. A truly effective homelessness prevention programme needs to include both affordable housing and family support.

The Welsh government’s new approach to homelessness prevention is important, as is the work of De Paul UK. We hope that the next UK government will work with homelessness charities like us to integrate these two approaches, to alleviate both the financial and social conditions that are causing more and more people to lose their homes in this country.

Alex Charlton