Minister committed to ending homelessness, but service reforms require patience

(Title Image: BBC Wales)

Yesterday, AMs discussed the Communities Committee follow-up report on rough-sleeping.

Right support “simply not there”

Chair of the Committee, John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) said that while there was a sense of urgency from the Welsh Government, on the ground rough-sleepers were struggling to get the support they need. Thanks to the open and frank accounts from rough-sleepers, the Committee was able to build a clear picture of where the support network for homeless people was failing.

“We have heard of pockets of good practice delivering life-changing support to people, but we are concerned that there is not the ability for this good practice to be replicated across Wales. We heard from the witnesses that often, the competitive nature of commissioning means that this does not happen. Organisations cannot then learn from others either what works well or what doesn’t.”
– Chair of the Communities Committee, John Griffiths AM

Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales), accused the Welsh Government of “playing fast and loose” with the Housing Support Grant by giving it a real-terms cut in the 2020-21 budget. The consequences of that will be increased pressure on the NHS; it was also unclear whether £1million funding for residential substance abuse rehab centres was ring-fenced.

Delyth Jewell AM (Plaid, South Wales East) cited the latest figures which showed that 34 homeless people died in 2018 – a shocking statistic for a supposed civilised society. While there was a general consensus that sterile drug consumption rooms would protect vulnerable people, North Wales Police & Crime Commission, Arfon Jones, has to date been denied the chance to pilot that approach by the UK Government.

Huw Irranca Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) said that the right framework to deliver proper support was in place, but – as raised by others – there was a real problem in sharing the good work that happens in some areas (Wrexham in particular) with the rest of Wales as a whole. One other weakness is the homelessness sector was driven by competition between different third sector bodies.

Caroline Jones AM (BXP, South Wales West) said the Welsh Government was abdicating responsibility by seeking to hand the reins over to local government on homelessness, while Shadow Housing Minister, David Melding AM (Con, South Wales Central) called for homelessness commissioning to set more secure longer-term budgets and reforms to encourage innovation.

Ending homelessness remains a government goal

Local Government & Housing Minister, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West) said recent rough-sleeping figures for 2019, which showed an increase, was a disappointment albeit no real surprise. Nevertheless, ending homelessness remains a policy priority.

The Minister agreed with calls for homelessness commissioning services to be placed on a longer-term footing, but that ultimately requires the Welsh block grant to be placed on a longer-term footing as well (instead of being set annually). Policy initiatives such as Housing First take time but there were, however, promised reforms to Tier 4/residential drug treatment:

“….we are currently tendering for a contract on an all-Wales substance misuse residential rehabilitation framework, which will provide a new list of approved residential rehabilitation and detoxification service providers.”
– Local Government & Housing Minister, Julie James

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