Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Looking back not in anger but totally shocked

As you may have seen below I was perusing Inside Housing today and came across an article from July 2004. Whilst I know this was sometime ago I'd never seen the article until today and to be honest it made my blood boil and gave me an insight as to why Parliament never seems to address the homelessness problem properly.

The article reports that Paul Flynn the Labour MP for Newport West, had attacked homeless charities stating they are inventing problems to "prop" up their empires and went on to say "On his web site Mr Flynn attacks homelessness charities for ‘inventing crises and defending their empires', branding them ‘solutions in search of problems'". I read the article and thought maybe I should have a look at Mr Flynns website. Surely a MP wouldn't be making such outlandish statements, obviously he would have taken a peek at the legislation that governs homelessness, maybe asked the DCLG to supply him some background detail and data.

Well what I found on his website was truly appalling. It was like the pub bore had been put down his pint of Stella Artois and his Daily Mail and had learned how to type. Mr Flynn made a point of addressing what he alleges are myths put forward by homeless charities. I thought I'd put some of My Flynns myths and his version of the truth below, plus a comment of my own.

MYTH: People sleep rough because they have no housing.
FACT: People sleep rough because of alcohol or drug addiction, mental ill-health or the effects of institutionalisation in the armed services, prisons or care homes.

Does Mr Flynn merely think that these people have misplaced their accommodation or thought they fancied a night under the stars? And of course someone who is homeless and suffered any of the above problems may be in priority need under the homelessness legislation.

MYTH: Anyone living in an overcrowded, imperfect housing without a fitted kitchen or patio is homeless.
FACT: Homeless people are people without homes.

Now I have worked in housing for many many years, I have never had anyone apply as homeless because they did not have a fitted kitchen or a patio. Maybe Mr Flynn is happy for people to live in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. I'm starting to think that maybe he was behind Gordon Browns announcement the other week to house 16 and 17-year-old single parents in state-run shared houses rather than council flats

Well I was going to finish here and say sorry about going on about such a old news item. But having decided to edit a bit I went off Google Paul Flynn+ Homelessness. I thought maybe I'd find an explanation or even an apology for the item on his website. Surely he must have been told the errors of his or realised himself. I would love to you inform you that he has, but alas he hasn't! The
BBC website has a story from January 2008.
Apparently Mr Flynn again graced his website stating that he had been invited to a "sob-in" by Shelter Cymru and that they ran "a fatwa against good news". Shelter Cymru even responded to Mr Flynns allegation on their own website.
Mr Flynns views on homelessness baffled me the more I looked into them, but the only explanation I could find was contained in the last line of the BBC article above.

Sometimes one plus one doesn't make two!

I came across an interesting item in Inside Housing today.

It appears that Grant Shapps, the Conservative shadow housing minister has stated that the way rough sleepers counts are done by local authorities is to be overhauled. As I have taken part in a number of rough sleeper counts I have always found it ridiculous that we have had to discount people who to the average person in the street would consider a "rough sleeper". On the previous counts I have been on I have been told not to count a number of people. An example of a disregarded person would be someone sitting on a bench at 1am, wearing a number of coats and all his worldly belongings next to him as he is not laying down and asleep. I have always been of the opinion that the counts that I have taken part were merely there to provide the government with the answers they wanted. It also helps that the counts took place in months when cold weather could be expected, thus driving some rough sleepers into night shelters.

I came across this report entitled "Roughly Sleeping" by Mr Shapps dated November 2007. The comparison between the governments figures and the figures supplied by The Simon Community, a charity working with London's street homeless is quite jaw dropping

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Yet another item on gatekeeping

I'm sorry to the millions of readers (well all three of you who follow this blog), but its another gatekeeping story thats caught my eye.

This is an article from the Coventry Telegraph regarding the amount of homelessness applicants that have a duty accepted to them under Part VII. According to the article it identifies how Coventry Council is failing its statutory duty to accommodate under Sec 188 whilst it investigates homelessness applications and is blatantly gatekeeping.

I quote from the article "Mr Fowler (chief executive of Coventry Cyrenians) said he knew of instances were single people identified as vulnerable had been referred to the council for an emergency bed overnight, only to be given an appointment a week later, then face testing and form-filling."

The article paints a bleak picture of the whole homelessness service in Coventry.

I am concerned that in the article it states:

"The council has a legal responsibility to house people made “unintentionally homeless and in priority need”.

But it says it can take up to 33 days to assess whether the legal duty applies in each case."
It would appear to my jaded eye that what the council is really saying is that we won't accommodate during the 33 days, which of course is totally illegal!

I wonder if there are any readers in the Coventry area that would like to comment on their experience of the homelessness service there?

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Who really cares?

I was sent an email today that contained a link to a recent Channel 4 News item on the plight of single women fleeing domestic violence.

As anyone who works in the field of homelessness, be it for a local authority, a legal representative or a charity organisation we all know that gatekeeping goes on day in day out throughout the country.

I noted that in part of the C4 report "the minister for the homeless, Ian Austin, said: "Homelessness legislation and guidance is clear – local authorities must by law assess all adults who have had to leave their home as a result of domestic abuse and have asked for housing assistance.

"Even if a woman is homeless but not in priority need, local authorities must ensure that they are given advice and assistance to help them find somewhere to live for themselves."

I was surprised that the Minister didn't try to say that the reason for the reduction in accepted cases was due to the prevention policy that the government forces onto local authorities, perhaps as Mr Austin was only appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government in June 2009 he has yet to be corrupted by the architects of the prevention at all costs brigade.

A further point I'd like to make that the minister made was the issue of Advice and assistance. Whilst this may sound really helpful in most areas I have worked it all it really meant was handing out a photocopied sheet with hostel telephone numbers or the Shelter 24 hour advice number.

The issue of Gatekeeping does not only affect those people fleeing domestic violence, but ALL those who are being stopped from making a homelessness application, due to the governments blinkered approach on putting prevention above the law!

With respect to the exercise that CRISIS did in respect of 5 London local authorities it makes for damning reading on how homeless people are being dealt with. Their research briefing can be found on the link above. It would have been interesting to see which councils they had visited.

And finally the C4 item said that the NSPCC and the Equality and Human Rights Commission "were to take action against those Local Authorities who they believe provide inadequate protection". Has anyone head what actions they are looking to take? Because other than Judicial Review I can't see how they can hope to achieve anything?

Sunday, 12 July 2009

As Mr Spock would say.......highly illogical!

Well it seems that the Prime Ministers recent statement that he will "reform social housing allocation - enabling local authorities to give more priority to local people whose names have been on waiting lists for far too long" is a knee jerk reaction to the recent local and European elections. By the Prime Minister saying that local people need greater preference merely feeds into the urban myth that somehow certain people are able to jump to the head of the housing list.
Having worked in housing for many years I have found that what people consider to be council housing is actually accommodation that is temporary accommodation given to homeless people. Of course many of the population at large fail to realise that people may be in temporary accommodation for many many years. I know of a few families who have been in temporary accommodation for over ten years!

Whilst I'm mentioning this issue I do need to point out the Equality and Human Rights Commission report that migrants do not get council housing ahead of anyone else.So where is the Prime Ministers evidence that local people are somehow being treated poorly?

So it looks like the truth no longer matters. So what if the public have a misconception about something, rather than challenge it it would appear that policy will guided by what the masses believe rather that the truth.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Just a follow up to my previous post

If you see my post below Mark Easton of the BBC in his post entitled "Homelessness crisis? What homelessness crisis?"stated that:
"Even so, it seems odd that England has apparently escaped the kind of scenes being witnessed in America: tented villages of homeless people; motels requisitioned to house the destitute."
Well as I was spending my Saturday afternoon doing some work from home I came across this article from the Midweek Herald, a paper that is based in the South West of England. This article is about homeless people who are sleeping in tents because they have nowhere else to go.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

A myopic viewpoint

I have just received an email pointing out an article on the BBC website by Mark Easton. The article is titled "Map of the Week: Homelessness crisis? What homelessness crisis?". It appears that Mr Easton has seen the government statistics (our old friends the infamous P1e's) and on the basis of these has not questioned the truth behind them but has just followed them blindly. I hope to correct some of his observations here.

Homelessness is not falling, what is happening is that councils are doing all they can to prevent people from making homelessness applications thats all. People are still becoming homeless, but all that now happens is that they are being forced into accepting rent deposit scheme properties or other housing option schemes, but of course this is what is wanted by central government because they do not count towards the homeless statistics. The fact that a local authority believes that the applicant meets sufficient of the homelessness legislation to place them via an "option" and pay out deposits on this case doesn't matter, all that matters is that the statistics go down. Of course the criteria that local authority uses before issuing an "Option" is if the applicant is eligible, homeless, priority need not intentionally homeless and has a local connection precisely the same criteria as the homelessness legislation. As I have mentioned previously on my blog, that in many councils "Gatekeeping" is at the best tolerated and at the very worst actively encouraged by management.

The view that Mr Easton gave in his article:
"Look at the main reason people gave for finding themselves without a roof over their head: 38% said it was because parents, relatives or friends were unable or unwilling to accommodate them.
It is far from ideal, but perhaps families are putting up with surplus children and grandchildren because they know how frightening it is to be homeless in a recession."
Well if councils were following the letter of the law and accommodating those people who were homeless and met the homelessness criteria then there shouldn't be a need for families to live in overcrowded situations. Also its quite easy to speak to the parents and advise them its better to keep young Pete or Katie at home for a few weeks until an option property becomes available rather than having them going into bed and breakfast accommodation. Councils will turn a blind eye to issues that the property is not suitable accommodation due to overcrowding as long as it prevents a homelessness application being taken. Of course had a family been accepted as homeless and was asked to remain at their friends or family's property until temporary accommodation was found that would be illegal, but as its a "prevention" case they are asked to remain in there.

In respect of the apparent reduction of those people in temporary accommodation, let me outline how this is being done. How homeless people, particularly those with children can be gently nudged, even coerced, into giving up their temporary accommodation and having the homelessness duty discharged on their cases. An example of this would be a family who have been residing in the same temporary accommodation for a few years. Now the lease of the property may becoming to an end or the council wants to hand the property back for some other reason. The homeless applicant will be notified that they will have to leave this property in the near future. Now pay attention out there and watch what happens when the family are interviewed:

"Hello Mr Jones thanks for coming into the office. As you aware the lease is coming to an end on your property, we can look for alternative temporary accommodation for you, but this may be some miles away and I'm aware that your children attend school close to where you live. What I would recommend is that you go on our option scheme so that you can remain in this area. You don't want to go go to all the bother of finding a new doctor or school when you can stay in this area on the option scheme.Yes we do close your homelessness case but on our permanent housing list you'll be treated the same as if you was in temporary accommodation, even though your a private rented tenant".

Surprise surprise those people who have children at school, or are worried about being too far from their health professionals or friends and family will jump at the Option scheme. I accept that some homelessness applicants are happy to move into Option scheme accommodation but they are not all being given the full picture all that matters is reducing the number of temporary accommodation properties.