Research examines innovative way of tackling long-term homelessness

Wednesday 5 February 2014

A study by the University of Salford on behalf of the Welsh Local Authority Homelessness Network has found that giving homeless people access to a personal budget can be an important tool in tackling long-term rough sleeping.

The Network established five pilot areas in Cardiff, Newport, Swansea and Bridgend, Gwynedd and Anglesey; and used an ‘individual budget’ approach to help entrenched rough sleepers into sustainable accommodation.

Each area had a total of around £20,000 to be used to support a number of individuals enrolled on the scheme with around £1,000 to be spent per individual. The majority of people supported were entrenched rough sleepers, heavy drinkers, substance misusers and had spent time in prison.

Support workers collaborated with their clients to tailor an action plan according to their needs, using personal budgets to pay off housing debts and buy practical items such as clothes, shoes, bedding, food, bus passes, bicycles and mobile phones. Many of the purchases would help them to attend job interviews and keep in touch with family and friends.

A support worker from Cardiff explained: “It’s all similar items that come up again and again that people want: phones, jackets, boots, footwear. Very basic stuff. That’s not surprised me about it, but I think it’s really stood out that nobody wants anything frivolous at all.”

The study found that this personalised approach resulted in 42% of the people in the pilot being housed in stable accommodation. A large number of the remaining people were in temporary forms of accommodation such as B&Bs.

Related personal successes included an overall reduction in alcohol and substance misuse, increased self-esteem and self-confidence, and more trust and engagement with support services.

The expenditure was much less than planned with the average cost per person being £434.40. Many support workers believed that by reducing their clients’ contact with the criminal justice system and emergency services, significant savings were made to the public purse.

Dr Philip Brown of the University’s Sustainable Housing & Urban Studies Unit said: “One of the reasons why the personal budget approach was successful is because it puts the homeless person in control of their situation in partnership with a keyworker. There was a strong desire to expand the pilot in each area but this will be challenging without additional funding.

“However, given the long-term savings that can be made for the tax payer, local authorities and their partners should seriously consider how they can introduce individual budgets to their services.”