Rehousing the homeless helps rebuild lives

Homeless people benefit from resettlement programmes with many rebuilding their lives once they have their own accommodation, but individuals still need long term support, according to NIHR researchers at the Policy Institute at King’s College London.

Tracking a group of 297 homeless people for five years after they were rehoused, the Rebuilding Lives project examines their experiences and is the largest and only UK study of its kind. The researchers warn, however, that resettlement is not the sole answer, as many formerly homeless people are still vulnerable during the first few years after being rehoused and experience problems living independently, requiring ongoing support from housing, health and social care services – help many do not receive.

Dr Maureen Crane, from the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at the Policy Institute at King’s and the lead researcher, said: ‘Planned resettlement for homeless people does work and should be encouraged. However, although there have been cuts to tenancy support services, many people remain vulnerable and require long-term support to live independently and to prevent further homelessness.’

While 89% of individuals were housed at five years, many individuals were struggling financially and had difficulty meeting everyday living expenses:

  • Over half ran short of money for food
  • 44% did not have enough money to heat their homes
  • Two thirds were living below the UK poverty line
  • 24% had had their social security benefits stopped or suspended in the previous year, leading in some cases to eviction for rent arrears

Steady employment was another problem people faced with many only finding casual or ‘zero-hours’ contracts, despite a keen wish to work. Irregular working hours together with low weekly incomes, further contributed to financial struggles. The researchers highlight the problem such insecure hours pose for people who are trying to re-establish themselves and live independently after a period of homelessness. A growing shortage of social housing has meant that homeless people are now more likely to be resettled into the private rented sector. Yet the researchers found that young people, and those resettled into the private rented sector, had much poorer housing outcomes. They were more likely to have lost their accommodation and to have become homeless again. They were also the least likely to have received support from services after being resettled.

A third (35 per cent) of people in both the private rented sector and social housing were living in accommodation that had serious problems such as dampness and mould, faulty heating or electrical wiring faults, in some cases resulting in ill-health.

Peter Radage, Service Director at the charity Framework Housing Association, a collaborator in the study said: ‘This important research highlights the fact that homelessness is a complex and enduring issue for the individuals who experience it.   Low income and an inability to access permanent full time employment threatens people’s housing and independence particularly at a time when access to social housing is diminishing.   For a significant number of people in the study their support needs have not gone away.  It is therefore vitally important that decision makers understand the importance of homeless prevention services and prioritise them in their thinking.’

Paul Noblet, Head of Public Affairs at the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, another collaborator in the study said: ‘With the right support young people who have experienced homelessness can thrive when living independently, but their situation is incredibly precarious. Juggling a small budget too often leaves them just one unexpected bill away from finding themselves once again with nowhere to go. Times are tougher than ever for young people who have experienced homelessness. They must be given the support they need to find and keep a job and their own home.’

Rebuilding Lives, the report which outlines the research findings, makes a number of important recommendations about the services and support that are needed once homeless people are resettled. If addressed, they will help ensure that formerly homeless people are supported and their long term needs are met – so they can rebuild their lives.

Rebuilding Lives was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) School for Social Care Research. The study was undertaken in collaboration with five leading homelessness organisations: Centrepoint, Framework Housing Association, St Anne’s Community Services, St Mungo’s and Thames Reach. Rebuilding Lives was a follow on to the ESRC-funded FOR-HOME study that took place in 2007-10 and investigated the outcomes of resettlement of 400 single, homeless people. Further details of the study can be found online.

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