By Frances Parry, Vice Chair at the Bus Shelter MK
The Bus Shelter MK (TBSMK) is one of the smaller members of Homeless Link. We have 21 beds and offer an “end to end” programme, working with guests who were formerly street sleepers to get them in to permanent accommodation. We have 9 emergency beds and 12 further rooms in “moving on” homes across Milton Keynes.
We were very pleased to facilitate Homeless Link meeting recently with five prospective General Election candidates. All the candidates recognised that homelessness is an issue in Milton Keynes. As one of the UK’s newest cities it feels particularly appalling that, despite having made some progress (and the danger of complacency this might encourage), we haven’t made big enough inroads and homelessness remains a big problem.
Meeting with Labour candidates for election in Milton Keynes
Fiona Colley, Director of Social Change at Homeless Link, led our discussions which staff at TBSMK were able to “colour” with examples and evidence from our local patch. Whilst the unfreezing of Local Housing Allowance is welcome there remains a massive gap between LHA and rents in MK and one of our biggest problems is finding sustainable, good quality accommodation at a reasonable rent for our guests. We are overly reliant on philanthropic landlords and that leaves us, and by extension our guests, vulnerable. We simply must have more social homes built in Milton Keynes.
At TBSMK, we personalise our approach to each guest and fully support Homeless Link’s push for trauma-informed care. We are particularly aware of the number of single dads we host who are desperate for safe spaces where they can have their kids stay over. The long-term benefit of encouraging this contact is obvious.
The siloing of activities at local and central government levels remains a huge frustration. All agreed that if we are to end homelessness numerous arms of government have to come together and this will necessitate a holistic, cross government, strategy, preferably led by a task force directed from Cabinet Office.
The meetings were realistic about any financial “ask”. This is about working smarter. The next Government must work with more agility, replacing short-term funding initiatives with a longer-term and ring-fenced homelessness support fund, which would recognise the flexibility required to meet the needs of different places and individuals.
Our concerns were generally recognised by the candidates and undertakings made to take our points forward, to Ministers and Shadow Ministers. We encourage fellow members to support Homeless Link in promoting their manifesto “A Home for Everyone” to your own local candidates. This is a window of opportunity that we simply must exploit.
By Fiona Colley, Director of Social Change at Homeless Link
In 2019 the Conservative Party promised to end rough sleeping by 2024. You don’t need me to tell you it hasn’t happened. So, as we approach the next General Election, why do I keep urging Homeless Link members to engage with the political process?
My answer is rooted in both optimism and fear. I believe that with sufficient political will, the next government can do far better. It can build many more homes, cut across the departmental silos, provide for diverse needs and give us the long term funding certainty we need to end homelessness.
But I can also imagine an alternative future, one where, with all the other challenges facing our country, ending homelessness drops off the political agenda. I am in no doubt that without that 2019 election pledge we wouldn’t have had the £2b investment in homelessness and rough sleeping - no RSI programme, no Night Shelter Transformation Fund, no Single Homelessness Accommodation Programme. And with a funding cliff edge looming next March, if that political commitment is lost, I fear for the future.
Meeting with Conservative sitting MPs and candidates for election in Milton Keynes
So we must take action now, together. The general election has not yet been called, but for MPs and candidates across the country their “long campaign” is well underway. They are eager to meet with local services, to convince people that they understand challenges in their communities and could help to solve them in Parliament. It’s an ideal time for Homeless Link members to build relationships with current and future MPs, secure their support and influence national policy.
In Milton Keynes all the sitting MPs and new candidates were keen to talk to The Bus Shelter – to be frank, much more so than to meet with a national body like Homeless Link. Together we were able to explain the connections between local challenges in Milton Keynes, like a lack of move-on options, and national solutions like increasing LHA rates and building more affordable homes.
The meetings helped Homeless Link make new connections, to better understand the interests and influence of the candidates and to tailor our future approaches. Thank you so much to The Bus Shelter for making this possible.
Over the coming months we need many, many more meetings like these, starting with our Lobby on Parliament. If you haven’t already done so please book your place to join us in Westminster and write to your MPs to ask for a meeting on 5 March.