Let’s stop making young people homeless

It’s great to see evictions from social housing continue to decline in Wales. Clearly there is a determination by most social landlords to do all they can to prevent people from becoming homeless, a real challenge in the context of austerity and the Universal Credit rollout.

But even with figures at their lowest for years, at least 775 households lost their homes in 2017 through evictions from social landlords. On top of that figure there’s an unknown number of evictions taking place among tenants on licences and Assured Shorthold Tenancies.

What happens to these people? Where have they gone?  What circumstances are they now in? Is there more we can do?

Of course there is.

I was struck when I read the excellent, and influential Preventing Youth Homelessness: an international review of evidence published by the Wales Centre for Public Policy, by a set of very sensible ‘system prevention’ recommendations aimed at health and social care: that there should be ‘zero discharge into homelessness’, and that in the criminal justice system there should be a planned discharge, providing young people with housing options.

In other words duties should not end until people are assured they have appropriate accommodation and support where necessary.

It’s not surprising that these two areas were identified in the report – we all know the overwhelming evidence is that people who have left care or the criminal justice system are disproportionately represented among street homeless people.

But what also struck me was that there was no similar recommendation aimed at social and supported housing. Certainly the report recognises the crucial role social housing plays in preventing homelessness, but perhaps we need to go one step further. After all, the most effective way of preventing homelessness is not to let it happen.

Of course social landlords don’t ‘discharge’ people from their homes: they evict them. So why not replace ‘discharge’ with ‘evict’ – ‘social landlords should not evict young people into homelessness.’

We know that there will be occasions when a social landlord reaches a point where they feel all other avenues have been exhausted and a tenant needs to be evicted. But adopting the ‘as long as it takes’ principle, should that be the end of the relationship?

Instead could we explore in Wales a collaborative approach between key services and social landlords to ensure that evictions mean a move to an alternative home, rather than homelessness?

It seems to me that the benefits of this approach are enormous, both in terms of the individual or household concerned of course, but also in terms of developing a planned approach to resolving tenancy difficulties, rather than the costly and less effective crisis driven response that is usually necessary when responding to the emergency of homelessness.

I’m not sure how we get to this point. Voluntary protocols?  WG guidance and expectations? A law one day maybe? But if it could work for young people, why not families with dependent children? Why not eventually all tenants having difficulty maintaining their tenancies?

I am sure our friends in the sector will, understandably, have a hundred questions and concerns about this idea – but let’s start the dialogue – what a prize to win and what a huge step it would be to ending homelessness in Wales.