Homelessness charity Crisis and leading academic Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick from Heriot-Watt University have welcomed proposals - coming in the form of a new White Paper - which will bring forward a number of recommended bold and progressive changes to the law to help end homelessness in Wales.
Over the past year, the charity was invited by Minister Julie James to co-ordinate an expert panel, chaired by Professor Fitzpatrick, to consider how legislative change could help end homelessness in Wales.
The panel’s work was informed by the views of more than 300 people with lived experience of homelessness and wide engagement with professionals across the sector and beyond.
The White paper, published by the Welsh Government this World Homeless Day, takes on board a number of suggestions made by the panel, including recommendations to:
Provide support to prevent homelessness much earlier, so that people threatened with homelessness within six months can access support as opposed to the current 56 days.
Ensure the wider public sector, including health and social services, play a role in identifying and helping those in need of housing support.
Improve access to social homes for homeless households by looking at how allocation systems work.
Abolish an outdated law that limits support single people can access.
Offer people support to maintain a tenancy.
These changes, among others, seek to learn from approaches in other nations and, combined, show a world-leading ambition for ending homelessness at a crucial time as rates of homelessness are increasing. The most recent statistics show that more than 12,500 people were supported by local authorities across Wales over the last year, a 7% increase on last year.
Panel members hope that as the Welsh Government consults on and shapes the proposed changes, the wider recommendations and detail within the panel’s report will continue to play a central role in the Welsh Government’s deliberations and in supporting Wales’ journey to ending homelessness.
Matt Downie, Crisis Chief Executive and panel member, said: “Everyone needs a safe place to call home and yet every day we see people who are facing impossible situations – sofa surfing, staying for months on end in places that were only ever meant to provide emergency shelter, and some who have been sleeping on the street.
“As the numbers of people experiencing homelessness in Wales continue to rise, bold action is needed.
“We’re thrilled to see the Welsh Government showing real vision by taking such bold action this World Homeless Day, setting out its intention to move forward with a number of significant changes to the law.
“We urge others to back this legislation and help make it a reality, because the results would be truly life-changing.
“While there’s a long journey ahead to put the detail onto these proposals and see these changes on legislative books and put into practice, the ambition shown today is world-leading. We urge the Welsh Government to continue to consider the comprehensive package of reforms set out by the panel and to listen to those with lived experience of homelessness as it moves forward with outlining the detail of these changes. Together we can end homelessness in Wales.”
Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, who chaired the panel, said: “It’s abundantly clear that these are challenging times for housing in Wales. Over the past year, the panel has heard powerful calls for change from people with lived experience of homelessness as well as those who work on the frontline.
“It is reassuring to see that the Welsh Government is responding to these calls with proposals for significant legal change.
“We hope that the panel’s report, which includes detailed recommendations on changes to the law, will continue to form a key part of the Welsh Government’s considerations as it moves forward and establishes the detail behind the ambitions set out today.”
Katie Dalton, Director of Cymorth Cymru and panel member, added: “As part of our role on the Expert Review Panel, it has been a privilege to engage with over 300 people who have experienced or been at risk of homelessness, listening to their views on how the law needs to change. We are incredibly grateful for their time and expertise, and I am delighted that their views were taken so seriously by the panel and had such a significant impact on the report and recommendations.
“Experts by experience shared stories of trauma and frustration with the current system but spoke with passion about their desire to influence and improve it for other people. They were clear that things need to change.”
Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, said: “I welcome the considered and comprehensive report from the Expert Review Panel, which has provided the basis of our White Paper on ending homelessness in Wales.
“I commend the panel for the collaborative, innovative and positive approach they have taken in making their recommendations and I look forward to continued partnership as we develop legislation that ensures homelessness in Wales is rare, brief and unrepeated.”