(Title Image: KRCB Radio)
Over the Christmas/New Year period, there was a marked increase in reports of rough-sleeping as news about homelessness dominated the headlines.
Yesterday, Minister for Housing & Regeneration, Rebecca Evans (Lab, Gower), provided an update for AMs on what the Welsh Government were doing, with increases of between 10-33% increases (depending on the measure used) in rough-sleeping towards the end of 2017 compared to 2016.
The Welsh Government will have provided psychology training to more than 1,000 staff working with the homeless by the end of April, while 10 “Housing First” pilots (where the homeless are offered permanent housing as quickly as possible before any additional needs are addressed) are also being funded.
Two new policy documents – the first to roll out “Housing First” across Wales, the second to tackle rough-sleeping – were also launched yesterday.
Shadow Housing Minister, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central), was pleased “housing first” was being rolled out, but wanted to know how the existing pilots were working first. He called for a target date to end rough-sleeping in Wales in line with the UK Government, but the Minister wanted more accurate information on the problem beforehand.
Bethan Jenkins AM (Plaid, South Wales West) said a glaring omission from the plans was no commitment to ending priority need (where certain categories of homeless people are placed further up the queue) – said to be at the top of the wish list for homelessness organisations. She also criticised some of the waits the homeless had to endure to receive mental health treatment despite it being said to be fundamental to the issue.
The Minister said she wasn’t ruling out a change to priority need, but needed more evidence beforehand.
Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) focused on the “hidden homeless” (i.e. “sofa surfers” who rely on goodwill to keep a roof over their head). Welfare reform and personal debt are likely to make homelessness worse as it leads to rent arrears. He did warn though that giving more people a right to a house (by scrapping priority need) wouldn’t increase the number of houses, so councils needed more support to build them.
Gareth Bennett AM (UKIP, South Wales Central) said that after discussions with the homeless it was likely alcohol and drug abuse leads to homelessness and wasn’t a symptom – therefore mental health treatment was important. He also wanted to know more about Welsh Government cold weather plans as homelessness only gets significant media coverage over the winter.
Chair of the Equalities & Local Government Committee, John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) reminded AMs that his committee recently launched an inquiry into rough sleeping.
Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) wanted reassurances that housing quality standards weren’t being watered down in order to increase the supply of social housing, to which the Minister said all councils were on track to meeting the housing quality standard by 2020.