Nowhere Fast: the reality of unsupported temporary accommodation
‘We're sharing a room, just a box room, single bed in it. Cold, damp everywhere… No heating on at all… There is a leak in the ceiling, I have told the landlord about that, I have told him to look at the hot water, [there is none] but he has done nothing about that yet. And mites, bugs, whatever are biting me.’
Experiences like this are commonplace for too many single homeless people living in what we call unsupported temporary accommodation, such as private hostels, B&Bs and guesthouses.
Since October 2013, Justlife has been conducting research with IPPR North into the impact on health and wellbeing of living in these places. We wanted to understand the scale of the problem and work with tenants, services and other professionals to find both policy and practice solutions.
Broken locks and infestations
The reality is bleak. Many people experience insecurity, like broken locks, infestations, irreparable furnishings, a lack of fire safety equipment, winter months without electricity and hot water, regular illness from food prepared in unsanitary conditions. With little hope, pathway out or support to move on from this situation. One individual we interviewed said:
‘It was really dirty and violent, disgusting really, damp. I could even smell the damp really, I couldn’t breathe properly in the night.’
It is not just the condition of the property that is untenable. We know of circumstances where people recovering from addictions have been directed to houses where drug issues are known to be rife, vulnerable people ending up in homes with manipulative management and violent tenants.
Out of 45 participants:
- 39 said their mental health became worse
- 38 did not like the behaviour of other residents
- 34 found the landlord or management violent or intimidating
- 27 said that if they reported a problem it had not been dealt with at all
- 37 felt out of control in their circumstances
- More than half of the participants did not have a working lock on their door
- Several participants claimed they preferred to be on the streets.
What is clear from the research is that there is limited collective knowledge across authorities, agencies and voluntary services about who they are sending to these houses, what condition the properties are in.
There is no collective responsibility for the individuals staying in these places. Nationally, we do not even know how many people are living in this situation.
What can be done?
We have worked with tenants, service professionals and policy experts to formulate the following recommendations:
Temporary accommodation boards
Temporary accommodation boards should be established to get a grip on the problem. These boards will bring together the existing activities of housing authorities, public services and the homelessness sector. Member organisations would work collectively to gather, maintain and monitor information about local bedspaces and the individuals living in them, and to exchange information about the availability and quality of where single homeless people are being sent. This should be made available to potential tenants so they know what their options are.
Feedback from partners and tenants
The boards should use feedback from partners and tenants to take tough enforcement action on the worst properties and landlords, working with local authority environmental health teams and police and fire services to resolve the safety and security issues in the accommodation.
Planning for move-on
The boards should work with tenants and the homelessness support sector to develop move-on plans. These should utilise private rented sector access schemes where necessary, working with local housing providers to identify settled housing and ongoing support for tenants, so that the problems that single homeless people face can be overcome, not made worse.
Justlife is aiming to galvanise change for people living in some of the worst accommodation the UK has to offer. As well as extending our work across the North West and South East, over the next 6 months we will investigate the situation on a broader scale, across England. We want to hear from and collaborate with local authorities and public and voluntary sector organisations willing to address the issue of unsupported temporary accommodation in their area.
If you are interested in finding out more please contact Christa Maciver at Justlife: Christa@justlife.org.uk
To read “Nowhere Fast”, the latest report by Justlife and IPPR, click here.
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Alex is the head of research and development at Justlife Foundation, an organisation supporting people close to the streets.
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