Is out of the area accommodation a reasonable offer?
Homelessness in Stoke-On-Trent is on the rise. Even when you take into account homeless shelters, hostels, supported housing, council housing, social housing, and private rented properties, there is not enough accommodation available for everyone who presents as homeless. People who have been entrenched rough sleepers for many years, who have had regular, short stints in accommodation, but have lost this accommodation for some reason. Often the reasons can be traced back to poor mental health, inability to maintain a tenancy, lack of support, or offending and re-offending. One solution being offered by Local Authorities that I have experienced when providing support to people presenting as homeless is an offer of accommodation out of the area. This is usually offered when there is no space at local hostels or night shelters or the customer is being refused access to these.
Service Co-ordinator Rachael Quarmby discusses a typical example and questions whether this is sometimes merely the least worst option.
A woman presented as homeless after being evicted from her property. She was assessed as not being vulnerable compared to an ‘ordinary person’. This was despite a history of substance use and mental health difficulties. She was offered out of area accommodation and advised that there was no alternative other than rough sleeping or sofa surfing if she refused the offer. The customer accepted the out of area accommodation under duress. She described it being out of desperation. The Local Authority purchased a one-way train ticket. The customer asked what would happen if she wished to return to her own area. However, there was no offer of a return ticket. She was advised that she would have to make her own way to the accommodation from the train station and no funds were available to pay for a taxi. Due to the customers difficulties and low income she had no money to finance this herself.
The customer did make her own way to her new accommodation, in another County, approximately 40 miles away. Her support worker went to visit her at her new accommodation. The person presented as very depressed and anxious. She advised she was running out of her medication and she had been offered neither support to register with a new GP by the local support provider, nor a new substance misuse service to support her with addiction. The customer also advised that she had not left her room since arriving as she was too anxious about the people she was sharing the property with and she did not feel safe. She described a situation of being taken away from the area and networks she knew well because she was perceived as a burden. The customer does not feel that she was given a reasonable offer, but felt she had no alternative but to leave the area. If not, this would have meant a night on the street, exposed to potential exploitation, which is frightening for someone who has already had such a traumatic experience in life.
The growing problem of homelessness is placing huge pressures on Local Authorities. While it is tempting to look across administrative boundaries, this is not always in the interests of the people looking for a safe place to stay, even temporarily. As budgets for supporting people experiencing homelessness are squeezed, it seems likely that this temptation will become even more appealing. However, homelessness is about more than putting people in to buildings. It is about finding a stable platform from which people can emerge in to a fulfilled live and put homelessness behind them. Without more local investment in affordable accommodation for single people, with an offer of support where necessary, the appeal of transporting people across boundaries out of mutual desperation seems likely to persist.