Hundreds of business leaders recently spent a night sleeping outside in central Edinburgh to raise funds for homeless people. Organised by Social Bite, the aim was to raise half a million pounds for a “homeless village” on the outskirts of the city, where eco-friendly 'tiny houses' will accommodate 20 people.
People developing and supporting new homelessness interventions have an obligation to take account of lessons we've already learned from existing projects and research.
The sleep-out prompted a welcome conversation about homelessness among business leaders, politicians and the public and brought together a wide coalition of people wanting to help. But, as Dr. Beth Watts, Research Fellow in the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society, explains, good intentions are not enough.
Dr. Watts said: “The appeal of initiatives like the homeless village, that offer a practical solution to a very visible social problem, is clear. However, altruism must also be effective. People developing and supporting new homelessness interventions have an obligation to take account of lessons we've already learned from existing projects and research. Social Bite does so in several ways, such as intensive support provision in the planned village, but departs in one crucial respect.
“The evidence increasingly suggests homeless people should be reintegrated into mainstream housing as quickly as possible. The idea of a homeless village seems in tension with this.”
Several existing programmes embody this research-based principle. One is Housing First, developed in New York in the 1990s by homelessness support organisation Pathways to Housing. Unlike traditional models which require rough sleepers to navigate stages of transitional housing before 'graduating' into mainstream accommodation, Housing First takes people directly from the street to permanent housing. Accommodation is in normal neighbourhoods rather than homelessness-specific schemes, backed by intensive long-term support to address issues that might risk the tenancy. Its effectiveness is well established and has been replicated in different parts of the US, Canada, mainland Europe and the UK.
Westminster-led welfare reforms and council budget cuts since 2010 mean that people on already low incomes are increasingly struggling to meet the costs of housing. This makes it even more important that business leaders and politicians back evidence-based responses, and that initiatives like Social Bite's achieve the best possible outcomes for homeless people with the funds they raise.
For Dr. Watt's full article, please visit The Conversation.
Dr. Watts is part of The Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Environment and Real Estate Research (I-SPHERE), one of the UK's top social and urban policy research centres.