Guest blog: The Homelessness Reduction Act & Future of Homelessness

At Trilateral Research our efforts are placed on using a multidisciplinary approach, of data science and social science, to support decision-makers to optimise their data, enabling effective and efficient decision-making in a responsible manner. Such an approach is instrumental when seeking to develop appropriate strategies to support vulnerable people. According to the recently updated UN General Comment 36 on the Right to Life: “The duty to protect life also implies that States parties should take appropriate measures to address the general conditions in society that may eventually give rise to direct threats to life or prevent individuals from enjoying their right to life with” These general conditions may include homelessness.

Homelessness has become the subject of increased media and political attention in the UK and the conservative government has promised it will eliminate rough sleeping entirely by 2027. It is estimated that 4,751 were sleeping rough on any one night in 2017 and the “number of households in temporary accommodation in England rose by 4 per cent during the year to 78,930.” Although staggering, these figures do not illustrate the larger problem, as they do not take into account “hidden homelessness” where people are staying with friends or families or ‘couch surfing’. The government first passed the homeless persons act in 1977. Despite this legislation being limited in its scope and protection measures, it has not been updated until recently. 40 years later, on 3 April 2018 the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) came into force. This act made significant changes to existing legislation, placing a lot more responsibility on Local Authorities to ensure a focus on early prevention and to relieve homelessness. Most notably, it encouraged a “culture shift” within local authorities, in which the onus was put on “helping everybody, even if it’s just signposting” rather than ticking boxes. It is early days to truly understand what changes the act has made, however, the think tank the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) has launched the Homelessness Commission (LGHC) which will undertake a year-long investigation to develop strong practical recommendations for councils to tackle homelessness.

The act at a glance:

  • The prevention duty, once triggered will continue for 56 rather than 28 days. After this the relief duty is an additional 56 days but will likely get extended.
  • Councils are required to deliver services to everyone who is at risk of becoming homeless. This ensures that single people who were not necessarily considered “priority need” such as families with children and those who are vulnerable, under the old legislation, will be accounted for and protected.
  • A tailored assessment and housing plan will have to be undertaken to ensure all everything is considered from necessary housing requirements to tackling the root causes of homelessness of the individual.

Although the act is a welcome development, this legislation alone, cannot remove homelessness entirely. Nor can applications and technological initiatives such as the Street link App or Next Meal. In order to truly eradicate homelessness, a more radical approach to address its root causes is required. This is particularly difficult, as there are misconceptions with regard to what the drivers of homelessness are and thus its causes. Often practitioners in the field consider the reasons behind homelessness to be extremely subjective and complex. They believe that the experience of “homelessness is fairly randomly distributed across the population, and that its causes are largely unfathomable, and that attempts at prediction and prevention are doomed to failure.” Under this deliberation, a set of indicators would be impossible to generate. However, Crisis’ report published in August 2017 attempts to do just this, by seeking to understand the drivers of homelessness in its different forms. Within the report, Crisis outlines poverty as the most important driver of homelessness alongside, the availability and affordability of different forms of potentially accessible housing, the use of unsuitable temporary accommodation, age, household composition, type of urban location, general housing market affordability as well as complex needs and offending rates.

In the fight against homelessness it is therefore important to successfully identify these indicators outlined. Once done so, local authorities may gain greater insights into the individual and his/her situation and thus, improve early prevention. Accessibility to data, is key to achieving this.

At Trilateral Research we believe we should use data science, in conjunction with social science research to improve our understanding of the factors leading to homelessness and the existing links between these, through better gathering and analysis of data. This will enable the development of predictive tools and models which will help detect and prevent future homelessness. These may not cover everyone, but, by reaching a significant number early on, decision-makers can focus on more complex cases with more ease.

However, local authorities struggle with tracking all of the information which comes with homelessness and have significant data-management and organisational challenges. Often, they also lack the software infrastructure needed to handle the volume of this data and local authorities often do not to share data, resulting in various data gaps. These challenges have only increased with the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation.

This is precisely where Trilateral Research is able to support local authorities and other partners involved in preventing homelessness. Trilateral has worked with the police and local authorities to build models to protect vulnerable people. This includes a model to identify areas where deaths by suicide are likely to be high and machine learning algorithms to identify young offenders most at risk of serious youth violence, child sexual exploitation, the drug trade and going missing. Theses advanced data insights are helping to improve and optimise the delivery of public services under a constrained budget, whilst simultaneously reducing the risk of harm to some of the most vulnerable in society. In light of this, we are reaching out to work alongside Local Authorities in order to ensure data is being used correctly, in compliance with GDPR, as well as in an optimum fashion to guarantee the best solutions to prevent the occurrence of homelessness.

See the rest of this weeks' #CounciloftheFuture campaign week blogs here

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