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Using an online survey (n=158), interviews with sector leaders (n=8) and information gathering through our work with our over 900 members, Working Together: the homelessness sector’s path beyond COVID describes how the many challenges of the past year and a half have fostered a time of rapid change and growth across homelessness provision in England.

During the pandemic, at a time when many other services became entirely remote or stopped altogether, 72% of respondents stated they had increased their level and/or types of support, particularly in supporting clients’ mental health and basic needs. 50% increased their number of staff and many described scrambling to maintain and expand services to meet the growing and changing need in an environment dominated by short-term funding and a lack of affordable housing. 

Our second report, Homelessness Provision for the Future, expands on the themes identified in Working Together by exploring best practice during the pandemic. Fifteen case studies from across England are used to examine how the new ways of working have presented a chance for organisations to rethink and reprioritise. 

The Government’s Everyone In scheme fostered a reframing of rough sleeping as an issue not simply of housing, but of health.  The VCS and local authorities came together to establish new, joined-up ways of working across multiple sectors to meet the wide variety of clients’ support needs, as well as the steady flow of people continuing to present to services.  

Many described this as a key opportunity to be more strategic and holistic in their approach, while the incredible volume and complexity of need demonstrated emphasised the importance of not only relieving rough sleeping but preventing and relieving homelessness more generally. However, while respondents felt positively about many pandemic government interventions like Everyone In, the pause on evictions and the ability to support people with NRPF, the future remains uncertain. 

As the country moves forward and restrictions and pandemic-related support are phased out, the homelessness sector continues to experience increasing demand – as also demonstrated in the latest MHCLG figures. 60% of respondents described an increase in the number of people in need of services since the pandemic and 59% reported an increase as of March 2021, while 58% reported seeing more people experiencing homelessness for the first time. It’s no wonder there is concern for the immediate future.

Many respondents felt worried about the increase in demand, particularly with 65% stating their view that their funding is insufficient to support the needs of those experiencing homelessness in their community. As of January 2021, more than 11,000 people remained in emergency accommodation, most of whom do not have a statutory entitlement to housing or have no recourse to public funds.

A sector accustomed to working amidst incredible complexity, uncertainty and adversity sits at a crossroads. The long-term, holistic approaches that many developed and built upon during the pandemic that supported all, regardless of immigration status or priority need, present a vital opportunity for strategic advancement across the sector. 

As the CEO of a West Midlands organisation stated: 

“I think the main [lesson] is that we can end rough sleeping. There’s no reason for anyone to sleep rough and if the resources are provided and the agencies work together, no one needs to be on the street. And that’s not just true in a pandemic, that’s true always. So, we know it can happen.” 

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has formally started the process for the Comprehensive Spending Review this autumn. The fact that this is to be a three-year settlement will be welcomed by the sector so long as this is passed on in longer term service commissioning. The next question will be the level of funding, which is an opportunity for the government to demonstrate its continued commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024.