Winter is the most difficult time of year to be sleeping rough in London. It is often cold, rainy and dark, and at time where families would usually come together, it can be a lonely and isolated experience if you are homeless. However, today it has been announced that the Greater London Authority are going to use a Social Impact Bond (SIB) to fund potentially life-changing provisions for up to 800 rough sleepers in London. This SIB raises money from socially-motivated investors, who invest in a programme of support, to be delivered primarily by St Mungo’s and Thames Reach. David Cameron commented, “Britain is a world leader in using finance to help grow a bigger, stronger society,” and indeed this is the first SIB in the world aiming to reduce rough sleeping. Alongside this, the Prime Minister has also launched a Social Outcomes Fund – a £20 million fund managed by the Cabinet Office, which is intended to deal with the main problems holding back the growth of SIBs. (For some background on SIBs and payment by results, have a look at my previous blog).
The Young Foundation worked alongside Social Finance to develop this SIB, providing service design expertise. We looked at why there were so many rough sleepers in London, and why they were unable to find the help they needed to access accommodation. Our approach focused on the needs of rough sleepers from their own perspective. Literature reviews and examination of best practice can only provide limited insight; we needed to know what it was like to be a rough sleeper in London.
We ran a series of focus groups with those who were currently sleeping rough, understanding how they came to sleep on the streets. We heard stories of family breakdown and a loss of support networks, tales of the how the loss of a job spiraled into homelessness, and stories of people who had lost all faith in support services – believing that there was no one who had the ability or desire to help them. We also spoke to those who provide homelessness services, who have been hit by funding cuts, but whose services were now needed more than ever. We spent time with outreach workers, walking around central London by night. Together we looked for rough sleepers who needed support but didn’t know who to go to or how to get help, some seeking asylum in this country. Lastly, we spoke to ex-rough sleepers, to understand their journey from a life on the streets to something better. All of this research painted a complex picture of what it is like to be homeless in London. Rough sleepers we spoke to had multiple needs. There was no one-size-fits-all answer, but across the board there was a need for increased funds to help get people back to where they wanted to be.
This new SIB takes this research into account, and aims to make it possible to raise the finance needed to tackle a range of issues any rough sleeper may face – be it mental health issues, drug and alcohol addiction, training and educational needs, reoffending or health problems. Holistic and tailored provision is needed; simply providing accommodation is not enough.
Alongside this, recent press accounts highlight mounting accommodation problems across London, in part influenced by changes to the English Homeless legislation. Social Life’s Nicola Bacon points out that
“eligibility for help as homeless is tight, and has become more stringent over the years. Only families with children, and vulnerable adults, who can show they lost their home through no fault of their own and who have no other alternatives, now qualify for help.”
With this agenda, what is key is that families and single people do not find themselves in the position of having to sleep rough in the first place. With any legislative change, there needs to be provision available to help those most vulnerable and in need. Although the announced SIB is helping move people from a life on the streets, safeguards must also be in place to make sure this is will not happen to a new generation of London’s citizens.