Homelessness legislation should change to reflect the truly ‘vulnerable’

Hotspot news

Homelessness could be turned into a crime under proposed anti-social behaviour laws.

The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing bill, which featured in the Queen’s Speech in May earlier this year , includes powers to ban certain activities from designated areas including banning spitting, banning homeless or young people from parks, banning begging or rough sleeping and banning smoking in outdoor public places.

The Housing Act 1996 requires housing authorities to provide accommodation to homeless people, in the public or private sector, where an applicant did not make themselves homeless and has a priority need. A person has a priority need if, among other things, he or she is vulnerable because of a disability, mental illness, age or other special reason.

The Court of Appeal heard in the case of Pereira v Camden Council, had held that a person is vulnerable if their circumstances are such that they would suffer more when homeless than ‘the ordinary homeless person’ and would suffer an injury or other detriment that the ordinary homeless person would not.

Defining ordinary
This begs the question, who is the ordinary homeless person? What are his or her characteristics? What harm would they suffer? The Court of Appeal recently considered this question in Johnson v Solihull.

Craig Johnson was 37 years old. He was a heroin addict and had previously suffered from depression. For years he didn’t have a home of his own. He applied to Solihull Council for accommodation. Solihull was satisfied that he was homeless, but declined to provide him with accommodation because, in its view, he was not vulnerable. In reaching this decision, Solihull’s reviewing officer relied upon a report which showed that the vast majority of homeless people suffered from drug problems; Mr Johnson’s circumstances therefore meant that he was no different to the ‘ordinary homeless person’ and was not vulnerable.

The Court of Appeal dismissed Mr Johnson’s appeal. The reviewing officer had been entitled to find that the ordinary homeless person was likely to suffer from drug problems and to draw the comparison, and reach the conclusion, that he did.

Controversial decision
This is the type of decision that most people are likely to find perplexing. Surely a person is vulnerable if their drug addiction is such that they would be more liable to harm than someone who did not suffer from those problems? This does not just accord with the everyday meaning of vulnerability but is also plainly what the government intended – that people, who are at more risk of suffering harm when homeless, are given greater priority than those who are not. While there must be a comparator, the comparator should be someone who is able to cope if they were homeless. If the majority of homeless people are now more liable to harm because of drug addiction, then surely this comparator should no longer be the ordinary homeless person?

Surprisingly, the Supreme Court and the House of Lords has never considered the meaning of vulnerability within homeless legislation despite being law for 36 years. With homelessness on the rise, it has surely never been a better time for it to do so and Public Space Protection Orders urgently need to be subjected to additional checks and limitations to ensure that they are used proportionately and do not interfere with the rights of those who use public spaces.

The fact that there are so many people forced to live on the streets is testament to the sad fact we in the UK are in. Banks foreclosing on family homes left many with no option but to set up homes in campers, cars and vans and even caves we reported last month (See link below). Tent cities have sprung up under road bridges and makeshift camps can be found in many wooded areas as families struggle to get back on their feet. We have wrote many times that Homelessness needs to be tackled by the provision of affordable housing, not by making those people forced to live on our streets into criminals. #justsaying

PTSD and the 9,000 ex-service personnel homeless after leaving the military.

Homelesss

Up to 9,000 British heroes who served Queen and country are homeless after leaving the military.

Shockingly, ex-service personnel account for one in 10 rough sleepers across the UK.

And charities have warned that the problem of homelessness among former soldiers, sailors and airmen is a “ticking time bomb” which will only get worse if urgent action isn’t taken.

Yesterday Simon Weston OBE, who suffered serious burns in the Falklands War, accused the Government of “betraying” veterans after learning of the disturbing numbers without a home.

“A huge amount of rhetoric comes from politicians, but they never actually do anything,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s a betrayal.”

The Sunday Mirror this week heard harrowing stories from veterans who fought on the front line but now sleep in doorways, graveyards and parks, begging from the passers-by whose freedom they defended.

Many are having to cope with the devastating affects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which has led to a cycle of family break-up, addictions to drugs or alcohol and homelessness.

Peter Rawlings, a veteran of war in the former Yugoslavia, told how he was “flicked on the pavement” when he left the Army, with no help to adjust to life on civvy street.

Charities have warned that homelessness is fast becoming the next military scandal following PTSD – and that savage defence cuts would lead to yet more rough sleepers.

The Army has reduced the number of soldiers by 11,500 in the past three years. A total of 20,000 are due to be axed by 2017. The RAF and Royal Navy are each shedding 5,000 airmen and sailors.

Homes 4 Heroes founder Jim Jukes said there were an estimated 9,000 homeless ex-servicemen in Britain, including rough sleepers and those in hostels and B&Bs. He said: “With the redundancies coming up and more with PTSD this is only ­going to get worse. This is a ticking time bomb.”

His charity helps ex-service personnel in London, Brighton, Birmingham and Northampton, giving them sleeping bags, blankets and food.

Hostels for ex-forces personnel are opening across the country. One centre was set up last year by homeless charity Coventry Cyrenians. Spokesman Stuart Sullivan said that PTSD, combined with a lack of routine when troops leave the military, forced many into a downward spiral.

“What we were finding, particularly with rough sleepers, was that a high proportion were ex-services personnel,” he said. “It’s that lack of regime – they come out and it all goes. There’s no work and it results in all sorts of issues.”

Former Irish Guardsman Arron Jones, 24, is one of those being helped by the charity. He was discharged from the Army after suffering a nervous breakdown following four family bereavements in three months. Arron, from Coventry, said: “The Army helped me at first, but as soon as I left the hospital I was on my own.

“The hardest thing is finding accommodation. Because I’ve got such a nothing background, no one wants to know. I get turned away everywhere because they think homeless means trouble. The Government don’t offer anything for us.”

A report by homeless charity Crisis found that 500 people sleeping rough in London this year had been in the armed forces, compared with 330 the previous year. In 2010-11 there were just 77. The charity estimates that as many as one in 10 homeless people in parts of the UK are former service personnel.

Incredibly, the numbers have soared since the Government outlined its duty to serving and former personnel when the Armed Forces Covenant was enshrined in law in 2011. It says they “should have priority status in applying for government-sponsored affordable housing schemes, and service leavers should retain this status for a period of discharge”.

Jim

The covenant adds: “Support should be available for all service personnel in order to assist their transition from service to civilian life.

“Provision should include training, education, appropriate health care referral and job-finding preparation and assistance. It should also include information, advice and guidance on such matters as housing and financial management.”

Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said ministers should care for ex-personnel “unstintingly”.

He said: “The vast majority of servicemen make a good transition back into civilian life. Some do not and sometimes this is due to the life they led in the service of their country. Those who are physically or mentally damaged by their experiences fighting for us deserve our support in return. The Government must look after them unstintingly, because whatever the cost to the taxpayer, it will be less than the debt we owe them.”

Labour MP Madeleine Moon, who sits on the Defence Select Committee, said: “The Military Covenant promises priority accommodation for ex-service personnel. The problem is most local authorities and housing associations are desperately short of accommodation. The two are colliding, and this is something we have to resolve.”

Shadow Defence Minister Kevan Jones called for veterans to be tracked once they leave the forces. He said: “Without a system, people will fall through the cracks.”

Mr Jones said redundancies could put greater pressure on housing, adding: “When there are people who have spent their careers in the services, suddenly being told they’ve got to leave, clearly that’s going to be a problem.”

Homeless Night Shelter Crisis – ‘Find your own money,’ say MP’s with Blackpool & Anglesey taking an opposite stance.

Hotspot news

The Coalition is refusing to intervene in the growing night shelter crisis – even though it threatens to derail the government’s flagship homelessness strategy.

The funding crisis facing Britain’s emergency night shelters continues to grow, with ministers refusing to intervene despite confusion around whether shelters should continue to be funded through housing benefit.

Charities are warning that up to a third of UK night shelters are under threat, putting the lives of rough sleepers at risk, and, ironically, undermining the government’s own flagship homelessness policy.

The crisis was triggered by a court ruling that indicates emergency shelters should not automatically be able to claim housing benefit on behalf of their homeless clients. Campaigners say that although ministers could avert the crisis by amending regulations to exempt shelters from the ruling, they have so far refused to do so.

As a result, one shelter has closed, 11 local authorities are known to have withdrawn all or some housing benefit payments to their local shelters and many other local authorities are reviewing whether they should cut off payments.

Housing benefit has been a long-established means of financial support for up to a third of emergency shelters, whether they open only in cold weather or all year round. However, ministers have refused to intervene other than to advise shelters to find other ways of raising money.

Homeless Link, which represents homelessness charities, warns that the loss of the shelters could result in the death of rough sleepers, particularly in the winter months.

It says in a briefing:

We are concerned that in some areas night shelters may provide the only emergency accommodation for individuals who might otherwise have to sleep on the streets.

Charities have also pointed out that the coalition’s refusal to exempt shelters threatens ministers’ own No Second Night Out (NSNO) rough sleeper programme. NSNO was launched nationally two years ago by the then housing minister Grant Shapps and the prime minister David Cameron..

The programme is designed to provide a rapid response to people new to rough sleeping, giving them temporary accommodation while they are directed to appropriate support services.

NSNO was credited last week with successfully helping more rough sleepers escape multiple nights on the streets in London, despite a 13% year on year rise overall in the number of people recorded as homeless on the streets of the capital.

The night shelter crisis follows a court ruling in February which we here at UK Homelessness reported which judged that it was unlawful for Anglesey council in Wales to pay housing benefit to a night shelter on behalf of homeless clients because the shelter was temporary and therefore did not constitute a home.

Although the judge said that the case should not set a precedent, several local authorities have subsequently taken legal advice and cut off housing benefit. At least one council, however – Blackpool – has accepted a different legal interpretation of the the ruling and continued to pay housing benefit to clients of a local night shelter.

Reduction in any funding stream to night shelters impacts on some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and puts at risk the Government’s own No Second Night Out initiative. This situation has to be resolved as soon as possible.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said the government “fully recognises the vital work of night shelters in reducing rough sleeping”. They declined to say whether ministers would clarify the rules on night shelter payments.

Homeless campaigner Cory Monteith described as “an exceptional talent”.

Monteith

Actor Cory Monteith was a beautiful soul. His awareness of his own struggles led him to reach out to young people all over the world with deep compassion and empathy to help them through their struggles.

Cory wanted other young people to have the chance to discover their strengths and potential through the arts and he was deeply committed to ending youth homelessness working with Richard Branson’s ‘Virgin Unite’ homeless charity set up to help with homeless teenagers, Cory also worked with organisations like ‘Foyer’ in the UK, inspiring and giving a lifeline of hope to young people who were overwhelmed that he took the time to walk beside them to listen and share his own story.

It is with with deep sadness that we join with others to thank Cory for all he did to make a difference in other young people’s lives. We applaud his work to end youth homelessness and call upon all of us to continue this work to ensure that millions of young people no longer live on the streets.

Fox TV officials had described Monteith as “an exceptional talent” and its such a tragic loss to hear of his death which we now know is down to substance abuse and we can only imagine the demons he suffered but in his efforts to help the homeless we are sure he was also an inspiration to some of the most vulnerable people in todays society. From all of us trying so hard to bring this message across at UK Homeless and Broken Films our thoughts go out to his family who I hope can take some comfort knowing he felt compelled to doing so much good for those less fortunate in his short life. RIP Cory Monteith your legacy and memory will live on. https://ukhomelessnessblog.wordpress.com

Important news that would have been a catastrophe for rough sleepers.

Hotspot news

The government has stepped in and written to councils saying they can still pay housing benefit to the majority of night shelters to try to clear up confusion caused by a case in Wales.

In the note it points out it has invested £470 million in night shelters for four years from 2011/12 and recognises the important role they have in reducing rough sleeping.

‘The government recognises the important contribution that night shelters can make to reducing rough sleeping and the associated costs to society,’ the missive states.

It makes clear ‘housing benefit rules have not been changed’ and it can ‘continue to be paid to the users of the majority of shelters’.

Local authorities have been reviewing and changing their approaches to paying housing benefit to people in night shelters following a court ruling in Anglesey last year.

The judge in the Anglesey case said the council was not liable to pay housing benefit to an individual because he did not store his belongings at the shelter and beds were allocated each night, so it could not be deemed his permanent dwelling.

A 28-bed night shelter serving Manchester and Salford has already closed down as a result of the Welsh ruling. Umbrella body Homeless Link said 11 local authorities had withdrawn some or all payments to night shelters or were insisting on modifications to services.

But the joint note from the Communities and Local Government department and Department for Work and Pensions points out: ‘In his decision the judge made it clear that this case was limited to its own particular facts and state expressly that the case was not “intended to prescribe how housing benefit claims for rough sleepers should be decided”.’

It also suggests local authorities discuss the issue of housing benefit thrown up by the case with their night shelters.

Jacqui McCluskey, director of policy for the umbrella body Homeless Link, said: ‘When individuals suddenly find themselves on the streets, it is vital that they have somewhere to go.

‘Night shelters are often the only emergency accommodation available and confusion over the ruling was beginning to lead to unnecessary closures, potentially leaving those in need with no option but the street.’

Homeless Link is encouraging councils who have withdrawn funding to reinstate it, she added.

Peers in the House of Lords last month called for the government to issue guidance to local authorities and charities following the ruling.