Around 100 housing professionals came together to discuss and debate housing associations’ role in ending homelessness at the annual Homes for Cathy conference, held on 17 October in London.
This year’s conference was opened by Mike Amesbury, the new Shadow Minister for Building Safety and Homelessness, who set the scene with a keynote speech on Labour’s priorities for tackling the homelessness crisis. Mr Amesbury spoke of the three ‘pillars’ needed to end rough sleeping and homelessness: cross-departmental political leadership, increasing the supply of social homes and a ‘helping hand’ to provide support where it is needed, including a welfare system that has ‘dignity and compassion’.
Throughout the day, leaders from 26 Homes for Cathy member and affiliate organisations – including NHF, CIH, Crisis and Shelter – spoke on a wide range of homelessness-related topics encompassing:
- Housing associations’ role in ending homelessness – and the risk that an increased focus on tenant satisfaction could exclude the very people housing associations were set up to help.
- The impact of race on experiences of homelessness and how funding focused on rough sleeping neglects other forms of homelessness prevalent among racialised minorities, which in turn reinforces structuralised racism.
- The unique set of challenges faced by young people who are experiencing homelessness and how a combination of lower benefit levels and strict affordability assessments by providers can lock them out of the stable housing they need to pursue education and training.
- The ‘river of co-production’ and the mutual benefits for service providers and service users of equal and reciprocal partnerships.
- The intrinsic link between domestic abuse and homelessness and how housing is the primary barrier for women attempting to leave abusive situations.
- The complexities of migrant homelessness and the importance of fostering links between mainstream housing and the refugee/migrant sectors to deliver tailored housing and support solutions.
- The need to make a property a ‘home’ for people moving away from homelessness, the value of that in terms of tenancy sustainment and the strategies housing providers can take to ensure tenants have the essentials they need.
- The importance of flexible, person-centred approaches to keep customers in their tenancies – and avoid contributing to a repeat cycle of homelessness, particularly as increasing numbers of tenants face financial pressures amid the cost-of-living crisis.
- How the development of more social homes is key to addressing the housing and homelessness crisis – and the policy changes that could unlock supply.
The conference’s closing plenary was delivered by Liz Laurence, Head of Programme for the Royal Foundation’s Homewards initiative, which is convening stakeholders from both the private and public sectors to find innovative local solutions to end homelessness.
Homes for Cathy chair David Bogle, chief executive of Hightown Housing Association, commented:
“Despite living in the world’s sixth biggest economy, people are still living with no place to call their home in this country. Rough sleeping is only the tip of the iceberg – statutory data shows 83,240 households were facing homelessness between January to March 2023, up 5.7% from January to March 2022, while the number of households living in temporary accommodation has also continued to climb steeply with 104,510 people sleeping in temporary accommodation on 31st March 2023, an increase of 10 per cent since last year.
“It’s clear that the housing sector can and should do more to alleviate this escalating crisis, whether that’s building more homes, developing supported housing solutions that meet local need or working to ensure tenants sustain successful tenancies and avoid repeat homelessness.
“As housing associations continue to juggle the competing demands of a challenging operating environment, the Homes for Cathy conference provides an ideal opportunity for our members and their partners to think outside the box, learn from each other, innovate and ultimately keep a focus on their social purpose of ending homelessness.”