‘What do you think the government should do to improve life in the UK?’
With the lowest income households spending 133% of their monthly income on rent, energy and bills, the rising cost of living threatens a homelessness surge that will see hundreds of thousands of people facing homelessness and destitution.
The development of Housing Support Hubs will address and resolve many of the issues facing homeless people, particularly rough sleepers, though this proposal focuses on three of the most prominent challenges: (1) the inability to access clear information around the existing support available, (2) the inability to acquire and maintain the modern technology needed to access support services, and (3) the inability to open a bank account or secure employment without a permanent home address.
While there is a scattering of small-scale models in place throughout the UK that aim in some way to bring support together into one place, these models fall far short of the level of assistance needed to truly make a difference to the lives of individuals affected by homelessness.
PART A: Programme Objectives
When a person becomes homeless they face a number of unexpected challenges, notably surrounding their access to information and possession of working technology. Often, these two factors are dependent on one another.
(1) Without access to clear, comprehensive information about the support available, many homeless people are unaware of what they can do to change their situation or who can help them.
(2) Often, even when support is available, and a person is aware of it, they still lack the technological ability to access it. This is particularly relevant in the case of securing a hostel space for a night, as a homeless person will typically need to call a specific phone number at a certain time, usually the morning of. Without a working mobile with enough credit and battery life, this is impossible, and leaves them out on the street for another night.
(3) Even with a temporary room, the cycle of homelessness continues, and will continue, for individuals who are unable open a bank account or secure a job. Again, these two problems frequently run hand-in-hand. Without a permanent address, rough sleepers cannot access the financial and social infrastructure that is absolutely vital to so many of us.
Impactful policy change in the housing space is about more than putting a band aid on a broken system. This proposal, the development of Housing Support Hubs, will create a one-stop-shop network that among other issues, addresses these three key barriers to safe housing for rough sleepers.
PART B: The Vision – A Housing Support Hub in Action
If you became homeless today, one of the first things you might do is an online search:
‘What should you do if you become homeless?’
When you press enter, you’ll likely come across a gov.uk information site, which details the very first steps you should take. But what happens if you don’t have a mobile phone, or access to a computer? What if you’re fleeing an abusive partner, and don’t have access (physically or financially) to a safe refuge centre?
For many, the first step to a new life isn’t towards a website, or the local council – it’s to a sleeping bag on the street.
A Housing Support Hub changes this.
Hubs will be designed as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for rough sleepers, and bring all of the information around existing support into one place that can be accessed in town and city centres, as well as in community areas throughout rural or remote villages. If you become homeless, you can walk into a Housing Support Hub and find out everything you need to know about where to go, who to contact and what to do next. You can even access technological support.
With free to use wall-mounted telephones, and portable mobile phone chargers that can be hired, used and returned for recharge, you can now access the support that’s available to you without relying on the financial generosity of strangers who are themselves facing an increased strain on their finances, or switching to cashless payment systems.
What’s more, if you need to apply for a job or open a bank account, your local Housing Support Hub can act as your permanent address while you get back on your feet, and give you access to a pigeonhole for post collection.
Part C: Proposal
This proposal is for the creation of Housing Support Hubs (HSHs) that utilise existing unused spaces in towns, rural communities and city centres as a space for rough sleepers and other homeless individuals to access support in one place, without the need for their own technology or bank account.
The hubs have the potential to be designed around the existing Family Hub model framework which acts as a single access point for information and support to families. Family Hubs exist in dedicated buildings, buildings with another title or virtual access points, and Housing Support Hubs would be implemented in the same way.
At each hub, implementation priority would be given to four key services:
1) A simple-to-use information point that signposts to all of the relevant housing support available across local government and non-profit organisations.
2) A free-to-use wall mounted phone that can be used to contact and access different avenues of support, such as local authorities, hotels or refuge centres.
3) A portable charging device ‘swap shop’, where portable mobile phone chargers can be signed out and borrowed free-of-charge. These chargers can power a mobile phone for 3-4 days, and reduce the risk of an individual being unable to secure a hostel space if they have nowhere to charge their device. When the portable charger runs out of juice, the model can be returned to the swap shop, put back on charge, and an already recharged model can be signed back out.
4) Individuals can also work with their HSH team to use the hub as a permanent address, to apply for a job or open a bank account and break the cycle of homelessness.
PART D: Advantages
• Housing Support Hubs align with the government commitment to ‘end the blight of rough sleeping by the end of the next Parliament.’ Although HSHs cannot in themselves prevent the circumstances around an individual falling into homelessness, they can somewhat soften the blow of becoming homeless and offer hope in a person’s darkest moments.
• Along with local authority housing information, HSHs can provide information on other useful services such as women’s refuge centres, food banks and charities.
• HSHs can build on the existing Family Hubs structure and are therefore a low-cost method of addressing the housing crisis.
• HSHs will help tackle the technological barrier facing homeless people. Instead of having to decide between using their mobile device or keeping enough battery for the next day, individuals can be confident that their attempt to access support will not disadvantage them in the near future.
• In some localities, models with similar functionality exist, but they do not tackle the root of the issue. For example, most hubs are appointment only, with appointments being made by telephone or email. As these models are imperfect, another advantage of the Housing Support Hub model is that they can build on and improve already existing infrastructure.
To improve life in the UK for everyone, we must first improve life for those in the direst need. Housing Support Hubs offer users the opportunity to connect with new and existing provision, utilise modern technologies and reach the services that they need the most, when they need them.