Homeless Outreach in the Winter of Coronavirus: Looking to the Future

This is the third in a series of three blogs addressing the homelessness crisis and the changing response of churches to homelessness during coronavirus. You can read the first blog, on the contexts of changing need and changing policy, here. You can read the second blog, a round-up of our webinar with Housing Justice, here. You can explore further resources here.

This year has
produced an entirely new and increased set of challenges for those experiencing
homelessness, and the people working alongside them. At the same time, a set of
unique opportunities have presented themselves in the journey to end
homelessness for good. ‘Everyone In’ proved that with the right political will,
there are the means to practically eliminate rough sleeping in a series of
weeks. Many churches have used this time to reimagine their own response to
homelessness through widening their brief to include preventative measures and
befriending schemes.

As we look towards
the new year, we are again faced with a new set of distinct challenges and opportunities.
The recent Spending Review has given us a flavour of the Government’s
economic priorities as it starts to phase into ‘recovery’ rather than
‘response’. The longer term economic consequences of the pandemic will be
accompanied by the uncertain but undeniable impact of Brexit, altering the way
the UK can respond to rough sleeping. For churches who have adapted their work
on homelessness this winter, the new year presents a chance to entrench the
best of these temporary changes, and re-centre and refocus their outreach work.

The Foundations: the Spending Review

The Government’s recent Spending Review sets the climate and
funding landscape that organisations and churches will be responding to
homelessness within.

The Spending Review included a number of measures to address
rough sleeping and homelessness.  Most
significantly, it featured £254
million of resource funding to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness
marking a 60% cash increase in overall funding for rough sleeping and
homelessness compared to last year.

Whilst this additional funding was warmly welcomed by
charities and organisations working in the sector, the consensus is that
measures focusing on rough sleeping and homelessness alone are likely to be
ineffective alone. They need to be accompanied by well-funded services that
prevent people from ending up on the streets in the first place. In response to
the Spending Review, Homeless
have highlighted that without a fully funded welfare safety net, the
progress made through ‘Everyone In’ in the first lockdown may be in vain. Similarly,
have drawn attention to the absence of funding for the building of social
housing , and the hidden freeze to housing benefits due next year. This freeze
will mean a real-time cut in income for families struggling to pay rent, likely
pushing some onto the streets as they are unable to keep their homes against
the backdrop of an increasingly unstable job market.

Accompanied by currently planned removal of the £20 uplift
in Universal Credit, the consequences of the Spending Review are likely to hit
many of the poorest in our society the hardest.

These funding changes many mean that shorter term, Churches
and homelessness organizations will see a minor increase in funding. But they
will alter the nature of the issues they are attempting to respond to – likely
exacerbating the root causes of homelessness and leading to an incremental rise
in rough sleeping throughout 2021.

Impact of Brexit

When the UK leaves the EU at the end of 2020, we will be
entering unchartered territory, so it is difficult to comment definitively on
how this will impact the experiences of rough sleepers and outreach.

However, some projections and forecasts have focused on the
relationship between Brexit and housing issues. A 2018
report by Homeless Link
identified four key areas that would be likely to
see an impact: immigration status and rights, access to housing, healthcare,
employment and homelessness services, funding for homelessness prevention and
relief and the ‘bigger picture’.

It has already been announced that from 1st
December, non-UK nationals could
face deportation
if they are rough sleeping. A large number of
organisations have written to the Government asking for this decision to be
reversed, but it is likely that the impacts of Brexit will continue to impinge
on the rights of non-UK nationals who are rough sleeping or in unstable

You can read our guide to supporting an application to the
EU Settlement Scheme from someone who is rough sleeping here.

Some Permanent Changes in our Approach to Outreach?

During JPIT’s homelessness webinar at the end of November, our
panellists agreed that while the pandemic had presented manifold challenges for
the housing and homeless sector, opportunities had also arisen.

Churches can seize this moment to swing towards policy and
advocacy work more decisively and permanently, creating a landscape of outreach
which addresses the root of the problem and works in preventing homelessness
altogether. This includes befriending schemes and community programmes which
can create a stronger support network, but also has a strong policy angle.
Churches can advocate for a more comprehensive safety net than Universal Credit
currently provides, to prevent people ending up on the streets altogether.

Ultimately, as Churches and as Christians, we want to see an
end to homelessness, and a world where foodbanks and night shelters simply are
not needed. Moving away from an intervention based response towards
preventative actions should mark a step towards this.

There are certainly challenges likely to arise over the next
year. The political and practical landscape of homeless outreach has changed
and will continue to shift as we respond to the pandemic, to Brexit, and to government
spending priorities. But we can use this moment to advocate for real change and
a shift towards preventative measures. This could be a moment to change the
conversation towards ending homelessness altogether.

A Prayer…


Thank you for the work of people who are changing the conversation around homelessness.

Thank you for this moment of potential, for our ability to work towards the eradication of rough sleeping and other kinds of homelessness, and for your enduring love for the most vulnerable in our society.

We pray that this moment will not be wasted, and that the challenges of 2021 will be turned into opportunities for real change among outreach workers, policy makers, and the lives of people experiencing homelessness in the UK today.


This blog was written collaboratively by Lucy Tiller and Meg Read.


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