Statement by the Minister for Housing and Regeneration on tackling rough-sleeping and homelessness.

Feb 6, 2018Articles, Assembly Business, Assembly Issues, Cardiff Housing Issues, RCT Housing Issues, Vale Housing Issues0 comments

Plenary 6th February 2018

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Rebecca Evans AM

Rebecca Evans AM

Title: Minister for Housing and Regeneration Party: Welsh Labour

We all need a decent home if we are to realise our potential and enjoy basic well-being. Thousands of households have avoided homelessness through the preventative approach required under our Housing (Wales) Act 2014 legislation, which is the envy of other countries. But we still have much to do. We have all seen people living on the streets, and, clearly, the numbers have grown. Talking to people I meet, I hear distressing accounts of family breakdown, domestic violence, mental ill health, financial problems, substance misuse and bereavement. These issues lead to people losing their homes, but then they can then create a vicious cycle, leading to rough-sleeping. All too often, people become trapped in this situation, and their trust in services may be undermined, and their lives become more chaotic. The rough-sleeper national statistical release was published last week, showing the results of the November 2017 count. The figures show that the two-week estimate is up 10 per cent compared to 2016, and the one-night snapshot shows a 33 per cent increase. This is disappointing in the face of our efforts and investment, but not unexpected, and I believe it largely reflects the increasing effects of continued austerity, increased in-work poverty, and welfare reform.

The £2.6 million announced last summer is funding a range of innovative projects, supporting the needs of rough-sleepers. The PATH programme, designed in partnership with Public Health Wales, Cymorth Cymru and the Welsh Local Government Association, seeks to establish a psychologically informed approach to housing advice and support services. There has been an overwhelmingly positive response to this training programme, to help professionals in the sector enhance their ability to engage meaningfully with people with the most complex needs. By the end of April, we will have provided training to 1,000 support staff across Wales.

We are funding 10 housing first pilot projects. The evidence of success from housing first approaches is well documented, but it’s not a solution for everyone. However, it can be the route to stable housing and getting lives back on track. The Wallich, for example, has been providing a housing first service in Ynys Môn for some years, supporting people with complex needs to access and sustain their tenancy. We have funded research, which will report over the next few months, evaluating the impact of Part 2 of the housing Act, and the impact of legislation on former prisoners. Shelter Cymru will be reporting on the experiences of rough-sleepers in our cities, and this evidence will add to the body of knowledge such as the recent Crisis report on what works in their homelessness monitor.

We have a firm foundation for our next steps, working with stakeholders to develop policy, practice and guidance, drawing on the best international evidence, backed up by our own action research. We have the funding in place to invest in programmes and approaches that make a difference. Local authorities will have an additional £6 million in their revenue settlements. I will work with local government to ensure this delivers the secure long-term funding for which the Wales Audit Office recently called. A further £2.8 million is being channelled to local authorities to build on statutory prevention work, with a focus on improving access to the private rented sector, application of trauma-informed practice, strengthening services to people with mental ill health and/or substance misuse problems—including improved joint working between housing and mental health and substance misuse services—and action to prevent youth homelessness and reduce rough-sleeping. Talking to front-line workers, I repeatedly hear the message that the roof is the easy bit. People need help to overcome debt, deal with the effects of domestic abuse, poor mental health and substance misuse. And these issues, if not resolved, result in repeat homelessness.

Today, I am pleased to be launching two new policy documents. The first sets out principles for taking housing first forward across Wales. The second is an action plan to reduce rough—leeping. And these are living documents. They will form the basis of dialogue and action across the sector. They will change as we acquire more evidence of what works, and they can build on successes. We have developed our housing first principles working with stakeholders, including the Wallich and local authorities. There is strong evidence that housing first works, but it works best where the core principles are adhered to: housing with no strings attached, ready and available support services, and a small fund to help meet individual needs. The principles document sets these principles out, and my officials and I will work with key partners over the coming months to explore how we can best use existing resources to support delivery of programmes based on these principles.

The action plan reflects my determination, and that of our partners, to significantly reduce the number of people forced to sleep on the streets. This plan has been developed in partnership with stakeholders such as Shelter Cymru and members of Rough Sleepers Cymru. It is a dynamic working document, subject to continuous review and change as necessary. The document covers a spectrum of activity, supporting people to engage with services and get off the streets as quickly as possible. It also addresses wider issues such as a review of priority need and our guidance on cold weather plans.

Rough-sleeping is one aspect of homelessness, and we can only truly address the issue if we have a system that offers secure housing for all. Building market homes and expanding social housing stock can only go so far to achieving this objective. I will work with the private rented sector to find innovative ways to harness their supply and meet demand. I will also be looking at how we continue to reduce the number of homes lying empty. The funding announced in the budget is welcome, but we must spend it carefully. I have deliberately not laid out how every penny will be spent. I intend to review progress and the evidence from the pilots alongside the research reports due in the spring and summer. I will also work with partners to consider what is needed most to develop our approach to rough-sleeping.

We all recognise the challenges in delivering collaborative services. It will require new ways of working and significant cultural change. I believe we have a good track record of delivery on homelessness prevention. This Government will continue to provide the leadership to ensure we deliver a reduction in rough-sleeping and end the need for people to sleep rough. Thank you.

Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Thanks to the Minister for today’s statement. We’ve been having an inquiry into homelessness on the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee. As Bethan Jenkins mentioned earlier, we did have a site visit to the Salvation Army hostel just down the road from here, in Bute Street, which was a very instructive visit as we did get to speak not only to the staff, but also to several of the residents, many of whom are former rough-sleepers. Of course, it was only a small group, but I think common themes emerged fairly strongly. These seemed to tell a tale of early family problems, in many cases, which lead to early abuse of alcohol and drugs. When the residents begin to go on programmes where they are able to detox, several of them began to realise that the substance abuse was actually masking mental health issues.

I know this has been mentioned several times today—the mental health issue. Mike Hedges mentioned the possibility that some people start to abuse drugs and alcohol once they become homeless, and indeed this may be the case in some instances, but certainly, I think the experience that I took on board from the site visit was that it’s probably more likely that the substance abuse and alcohol abuse led to the homelessness. That probably comes first.

I think the crucial thing, which you have tackled in your statement today, is that there are these intimate links between mental health, substance abuse and homelessness. So, a persistent problem that you are going to have in dealing with the homeless issue is that you will have to work alongside the health ministry in getting resources directed towards mental health provision so that the homeless can access them. I know you’ve acknowledged that. So, to move to questions, how closely are you working with the health Minister in this regard? And in terms of the new funding that you’re announcing, can you be more precise on how much is actually going towards mental health provision?

I think that, in many respects, tackling the homelessness problem means crossing portfolios for you, Minister, in some important respects, not only with the health Minister. There’s also possibly the training aspect, which you’ve touched on a few times today. Because when we went to the hostel, other issues that were raised by the staff at the hostel included the need for continued resources so that more staff could be trained to deal with the complex needs of homeless people. As well as the detox programmes, there are also programmes being run dealing with teaching the residents basic skills that could eventually lead them into employment. I think it’s good that you have mentioned several times in your statement the training aspect. Do you see any benefit in interacting more closely with the skills Minister over issues like this in terms, for instance, of accessing resources?

Finally, there have been comments—not today, but comments in general—that the homeless issue is really only discussed in politics once a year, and that is in the run-up to Christmas. There is some extra funding provision at that time of year, it becomes a media issue and, of course, we do have a lot of volunteers active at that time of year. But now, we are in February and we’re in the midst of another cold snap. I note that you mentioned cold weather plans in your statement, so could you expand a little on how these cold weather plans will work? Diolch yn fawr.

Rebecca Evans AM

Rebecca Evans AM

Title: Minister for Housing and Regeneration Party: Welsh Labour

I thank you for those questions, and I’m really encouraged that the committee is undertaking a piece of work into rough-sleeping in particular, and looking at homelessness more widely. That’s really important because I hope I’ve been clear that both of the documents that have been published today are live documents. So, I’ll be keen to be looking at the recommendations that the committee might be coming forward with, in terms of reviewing and adapting those documents to the best evidence and the best ideas that are coming forward throughout.

It is a complex picture in terms of which comes first, in terms of substance misuse and mental ill health. But I think that what’s important is that we do ensure that all of our services that are there for people who are rough-sleepers do come from a trauma-informed approach. That’s why the PATH project, which Public Health Wales has been leading on, is so important, because that’s been offering training to front-line professionals—over 1,000 of them now—in terms of how to take that trauma-informed approach and to consider the story of the individual and what got them to that place and what can be done to assist them.

Some of the projects that are being funded by the additional £2.6 million of funding that was announced this financial year are specifically to support people with mental health needs who are experiencing homelessness. So, that includes training for outreach workers in Wrexham, for example, so that they’re able to support and assist people with a mental health support need, and funding for a link worker between health and homelessness services in the Vale of Glamorgan as well. So, there are some specific posts that are being funded as a result of that.

More generally, in Welsh Government, I’ve been keen to make that link—coming, as I have done, from the social services portfolio into the housing one—between my former responsibilities and my current ones. So, we now have a member of staff within Welsh Government who is specifically looking at housing and health—so, looking across the piece, really, in terms of what we can be doing with our capital funding through the intermediate care fund, for example, and in terms of policy as well to ensure that we are fully linked up and using all of the potential, really, that good housing has for the promotion of good health as well.

My former responsibilities also included substance misuse, so I’m keen to highlight the fact that, within our substance misuse delivery plan, we do have specific actions there in order to develop support for people who are rough-sleeping and people who are homeless. Welsh Government invest almost £50 million a year in this agenda, and our area planning boards will have a specifically important role in terms of tackling substance misuse locally, and that will extend to people who are homeless and rough-sleeping as well. Many of the projects, such as the Huggard centre, which the committee visited, are very much fully linked in with substance misuse services.

I’d also point out that we’ve commissioned a review of the substance misuse treatment framework good practice framework for the provision of substance misuse services to homeless people and those with accommodation problems. That will be completed in the spring in order to, again, make sure that we are linking up with all the best and latest evidence in terms of substance misuse and homelessness.