How The West Lancashire Homelessness Strategy Does Not Meet The Needs Of Homeless Young People Essay

Introduction

Young people become homeless because of many factors like problems or pressure from family and peers. This study will look into the need of these young people who are mostly aged 16 – 19 years in West Lancashire, specifically the Skelmersdale town. They are the vulnerable part of the community seeking accommodation, and as to the degree of attention given them by West Lancashire Homelessness Strategy is a part of our discussion. How effective is this strategy in answering the accommodation needs of the young people is our focus.

The West Lancashire District Council has been charged with the issuance and publication of Homelessness Strategy 2003 – 2006, after it conducted a series of consultations with the various sectors, forums and focus groups mandated by law to help in the formulation of the strategy. In short, this is a statutory document to meet the legislative requirements of the Homelessness Act 2002. The West Lancashire District Council formulated this strategy in a first three-year period, to look into the problem of homelessness in their district, or to help prevent such homelessness.

Young people are most vulnerable to become homeless because of various factors, like economic and social factors, a history of abuse, problems with alcohol and drugs, having a criminal record, health problems, and severe poverty and chaotic lifestyles. Their priority need in the homelessness strategy should be given attention.

SOCIAL EXCLUSION

A report by the Policy Action Team says that one in five children in Britain is growing up in workless households – a higher figure than in any other OECD country. There are also some startling facts that unemployment rates are two to three times higher for young people aged 16 – 24 from ethnic minority backgrounds, regardless of educational attainment, and that rates of teenage birth are twice that of Germany, three times that of France, and six times that of the Netherlands.

It is this same kind of report that made the Government act and institute programmes to suppress or prevent social exclusion in the young.

The National Strategy

Creating Sustainable Communities

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has a programme called the Supporting People Strategy to help solve the problem of homelessness in young vulnerable people. It is designed to enable and deliver the provision of housing-related support in England. The DPM states that it has invested over £5 billion over three years to enable the provision of support services at the local level. It aims to tackle disadvantage, reduce social exclusion and create sustainable communities. It also helps to improve the quality of life for some of society’s most vulnerable people, allowing them to move towards or maintain their independence, and prevent them from entering into crisis, homelessness or institutional care.

It is an important national programme to fund local provision of housing-related support, helping people to maintain or improve their ability to live independently. It is also cross-cutting, meaning it enables support for a wide and diverse range of vulnerable groups. As such, it contributes to the achievement of a large number of key Government objectives, including: creating sustainable communities, tackling disadvantage and social exclusion, increasing choice for older people, for people with disabilities (including people with learning difficulties) and for people with mental health conditions; reducing avoidable hospital admissions and assisting timely hospital discharge. It is designed for people experiencing or at risk of social exclusion who need a housing-related support and other essential programs to restore their independence in a sustainable way.

The following are some groups mentioned in the programme which needs support:

Individuals or families who have become homeless, where there is in the first instance an emergency need to provide a place to stay. In this situation, the individual or individuals need a place to stay prior to some solution to the problem or circumstances at home. Assistance in accommodation should be given.

Women fleeing domestic violence. This vulnerable group has to have some emergency accommodation, before some stabilisation of the situations.

Ex-offenders, particularly where leaving prison or detention (for young offenders). These young people should be given support to give time to develop the necessary life skills and make the right connections to resettle and reintegrate within the community. The individual should be given ample support to reduce chances of ‘reoffending’.

Young people leaving care who are vulnerable and who need support around life skills, employment or education.

• Young people leaving care or otherwise at risk, where there is a need for support around life skills and entry to employment or education.

Teenage parents. Those who need support for building life skills for employment or education, and to help in her situation as a young mother;

People with substance misuse problems – those who need support to help rehabilitate him/her from the misuse.

Gypsies and travelers or those in need of accommodation to develop effective relations in a local community where the traveler has entered or temporarily settled.

Refugees or those who have successfully applied for asylum and their support can assist in effective settlement and integration into a community.

The Supporting People Programme has given the local authorities a clear strategic role in planning and providing services across the groupings. The national strategy of the government (England) is to give support and services for people who are or who may be subject to social inclusion. The local government is mandated by the national government through its statutory homelessness and social services functions.

Moreover, the programme makes it clear to all concerned that the planning and provision of housing-related support is properly integrated with that of other services. With this, there is effective close coordination in the process. An example is set that the local authorities already play a key strategic role in addressing and preventing homelessness. What Supporting People does is support rather than set the strategy. The local Drug Action Teams and Teenage Pregnancy Coordinators each provide an expert local lead resource for integrated support for their groups.

The Children Act 1989

The provisions of the Children Act 1989 are very explicit with regard to care and accommodation of children. Part III of the Act, known as the Local Authority Support for Children and Families, Provisions of services for children and their families, states that: “It shall be the general duty of every local authority … (a) to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need; and (b) so far as is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families, by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children’s needs.

With this provision of the Children Act, a child with his family is protected and must be supported by the local authority, assuring his safety and welfare, and his needs met. The local authority is mandated to do this job.

The provision of accommodation for children also states that: “20. – (1) Every local authority shall provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who appears to them to require accommodation as a result of – (a) there being no person who has parental responsibility for him; (b) his being lost or having been abandoned; or the person who has been caring for him being prevented (whether or not permanently, and for whatever reason) from providing him with suitable accommodation or care.

In this provision, it is also the duty and obligation of the local authority to provide accommodation in the absence of the parents or guardians, and similar circumstances are.

The national strategy for children gives duty and obligation to the local authority in every district for the care and upbringing of children in the absence of their parents or guardians, and to provide necessary accommodations. Children in the care of local authority or social services department are also under their responsibility and must be accorded necessary accommodations and upbringing. This is very clear in the provisions of the Act, and all local strategies are to conform with these provisions.

The Homelessness Act of 2002

This Act mandates the local housing authority to formulate a homelessness strategy, “to carry out a homelessness review for their district,” in this case the West Lancashire District Council, and, “to formulate and publish a homelessness strategy based on the result of that review.” The act also enjoins other agencies such as the social services authority to give assistance in connection with the exercise of the power under the law, and that “the authority shall exercise that power so as to ensure that the first homelessness strategy for their district is published within the period of twelve months beginning with the day on which this section comes into force.”

The aims of the Act are to:

Require housing authorities to take a more strategic approach to the prevention of homelessness and the re-housing of homeless households;

Ensure that everyone accepted as unintentionally homeless and in priority need is provided with suitable accommodation until they obtain a settled home;

Allow housing authorities greater flexibility to assist non-priority homeless households, through a power to secure accommodation where there is scope to do so and a strengthened duty to provide advice and assistance;

Facilitate lettings policies which offer more choice to homeless people and others in housing need with the aim of helping create sustainable communities, tackle social exclusion and make better use of housing stock.

The North West Regional Housing Board has these following comments:

“A person is homeless if he or she has no accommodation in the UK, has accommodation but can not secure entry to it, or has accommodation but where it would be unreasonable to for him or her to continue to occupy it. A person is threatened with homelessness if he or she is likely to become homeless within 28 days.”

It simply means that a person is threatened with homelessness if he or she can not gain entry into his own home or needs to be away from that accommodation for, probably, security reason.

The same paper also said that the 2002 Act shifted the emphasis away from crisis management to preventing homelessness. Local authorities are required to carry out a homelessness review and then draw up a homelessness strategy which should then be periodically updated.

The homelessness legislation introduced in England excluded many young people without children from the categories prioritised for housing unless they were deemed to be ‘vulnerable’ and in priority need. This makes situation for the young people difficult in finding emergency accommodation. In this context, children have still to be determined by the local authorities as ‘vulnerable’ and in priority need before they are prioritised for housing need. There is no provision that the children have to be determined as vulnerable first. The fact that they are children makes them vulnerable.

The North West Regional Housing Board listed the reasons for homelessness:

The West Lancashire Homelessness Strategy 2003-2006

The Strategy documents highlight the key issues West Lancashire District Council faces in its attempt to resolve and address the needs of those threatened with or who are actually homeless in the District.

The Aims of the Homelessness Strategy:

Set a new strategically planned direction for homelessness services in the District

Outline the Council’s homelessness objectives and key priorities

Identify resources and future resources to tackle homelessness

Adopt a multi-agency partnership approach to tackle homelessness

Achieve local, regional and national homelessness strategic targets

Outline strategy monitoring procedures

The Council’s priorities for ‘Homes and People’ are to:

Improve housing quality

Ensure people can access a variety of affordable housing

Improve the built environment

Strengthen community spirit

Protect vulnerable people

With the above priorities, it is clear that young people aged 16 – 24 fall under the last category – the so-called vulnerable people. They are vulnerable because of many factors, mostly family problems and other social or environmental factors.

The document links with local and regional district agendas and strategies, such as the West Lancashire Strategy for Health Services, Lancashire Children & Young People’s Strategic Plan, the Lancashire Supporting People Strategy and South Lancashire Tackling Teenage Pregnancy Strategy.

Links between the Homelessness Strategy and the Community Strategy for West Lancashire

Source: Adapted from Homelessness Strategy Document and the Community Strategy for West Lancashire.

Based from the figure above, the community strategy is linked with various groups and agencies to tackle on the issues and concerns regarding homelessness. It is not just a one way affair, but based on cooperation among agencies and the different focus groups and forums.

The Partnership

The Homelessness Strategy and the Homelessness Review have been produced in partnership with the following agencies and focus groups:

A. West Lancashire Homelessness & Housing Advice Core Group and the Homelessness & Housing Advice Forum

B. Homeless & Housing Advice Core Working Group – this group meets monthly to discuss homelessness and housing advice issues in the District

C. Homelessness & Housing Advice Forum – meets quarterly to discuss the work of the Core Working Group and to provide a wider range of consultation and feedback. It has a wider range of membership.

D. Multi-agency Forums – composed of the West Lancashire Private Landlord’s & Agent’s Forum, West Lancashire Housing Association Forum, West Lancashire Domestic Violence Forum, South Lancashire Teenage Pregnancy Partnership, and the Merseyside BME Forum. The documents were said to be reviewed by these Forums.

E. Focus Groups – composed of the West Lancashire District Council Housing Options Team, Shelter Caseworkers, West Lancashire Crisis & Information Centre, and West Lancashire Women’s Refuge. These focus groups were asked to provide feedback on the following issues: customer satisfaction with current homeless services, housing and advice needs in West Lancashire, identifying housing needs for specialist groups, access to accommodation in West Lancashire, gaps in current service provision, future priorities for homeless services, and barriers to participation.

Supporting People in the Homelessness Strategy

The Homelessness Strategy also mentions the Supporting People programme of the Government, a government-funded programme that provides housing related support services to a wide range of vulnerable people in all tenures. The programme includes a range of young vulnerable people who should be given the necessary support services. They are the people who are homeless or sleeping rough, or people who are vulnerable due to youth or old age, those sleeping domestic violence, those with mental health problems, addiction to drugs or alcohol, those with poor social skills or disruptive behaviour and ex-offenders.

Challenges identified in the homelessness review

The following challenges noted in the homelessness review points the facts why the Homelessness Strategy Review seemed to have failed the young people in West Lancashire:

1. Failing to monitor social landlord homelessness nominations effectively;

Housing advice services are ‘adhoc’, disjointed and lack innovative approaches to disseminate advice;

Lack of specialist service provision for single, young homeless people;

Lack of joint protocols with statutory agencies;

Partner agencies do not understand the Council’s role;

The Council does not fully understand their partner agencies’ role in preventing homelessness;

Current homelessness statistical monitoring is time consuming (not computerized), limited in the range of data collected and not used fully strategically to “shape” future actions;

Limited promotion, both externally and internally of good homelessness services;

Lack of specialist temporary and permanent supported accommodation for vulnerable groups, e.g. young people, people who have experienced domestic violence, teenage parents, people with mental health difficulties;

Lack of temporary and permanent accommodation and advice services in the rural areas;

Young and vulnerable people are not fully served and protected in the Homelessness Strategy. They should be given priority because this is clearly stated in the Homelessness Act and a national strategy of the Government. The WLDC should not overlook this aspect of the strategy because when we say vulnerable, this age group becomes defenseless. It makes the strategy useless and futile if it can not protect and serve these young people.

Positive Findings from the Review

Noted in the Homeless Review are the positive findings or comments. But it said that they are still for raising of the standard of their work. Here are the findings:

Recent improvements in communication with the partners;

Joined up working through the Homeless & Housing Advice Core Group and Homelessness & Housing Advice Forum;

Furnished tenancies with support provided;

New Housing Allocation Scheme providing greater choice for homeless applicants;

Private landlord Rent Deposit Scheme;

Private landlord Accreditation Scheme;

Homelessness links with other strategies and regional forums;

No use of B&B accommodation to discharge our temporary accommodation duty;

Transfer of the West Lancashire Women’s Refuge from Council ownership to a social landlord to enable capital works to take place to improve the quality of the dwellings;

Contributed to Supporting People Strategy and chair the regional Group;

Successful turn around of homeless applications within 28 days.

Young people at Skelmersdale

The question of priority is an issue for the young people of Skelmersdale. If a young male or female applies for an accommodation from the WLDC, he/she remains in the dark asking as to how long the waiting time is for acceptance. How long will he/she remains homeless and sleeping in homes of friends or strangers, or outside of any building or establishment?

The website for West Lancashire District Council, although this provides instructions and forms to be filled up for anybody applying for accommodation assistance, does not give definite answers and assurance for that somebody to be given accommodation. Will he/she wait for how long before being ‘accommodated’ is a big question. The Council has to determine if the applicant is in the priority need. The spirit of the law in this context, which is to help any child in need of accommodation, is not being applied here.

Shelter website states that: “There are significant numbers of homeless young people who are still not accepted by councils as being in ‘priority need’ and are therefore not provided with temporary accommodation. The mandatory extension of ‘priority need’ to 16 to 17 year olds, and care leavers considered vulnerable because of their care, has had the most positive impact although, in parts of England, councils are still not prioritising all young people in these groups, despite the requirements of the legislation.”

The Priority Need Category

There is lack of initiative from local authorities on the implementation of the age group 16-24 to be in the priority need category. A lot of complaints have arisen out of this inefficiency, and it becomes useless and futile for the local authorities and even the national government to be spending much time, money and efforts on the Homelessness Strategy Plans and Implementations, whilst the young, vulnerable group is left unattended. There is no clear housing provision for this particular age group, except that they have to be given accommodation. But how fast can they be given assistance is still a question.

Young people who have a background of being looked after by local authority Social Services experience a particularly high risk of homelessness. Changes to social care legislation have attempted to improve the support provided to young people leaving care and prevent homelessness among this group. The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 placed a duty on Social Services to provide accommodation for, and to maintain contact with, young people leaving care.

WLDC has this responsibility to young people leaving care, but it seems the question of homelessness is still not answered.

Some findings by Shelter in the homelessness of 16-24 category:

“Young people’s definitions of homelessness acknowledged differing degrees of homelessness (for example being roofless, living in a hostel), but temporary accommodation was not considered to be ‘a home’.

Young people found making a homelessness application frustrating in terms of waiting time for assistance; requirements to produce documentation; and, ultimately being rejected.

Young people were particularly aware that being pregnant or having a child would give them priority for housing and many young women felt this was unfair to those who chose to avoid pregnancy.

Few young people had experience during a crisis at home, though others could see a value in family mediation after a ‘cooling off’ period.”

There are significant numbers of homeless young people who are still not accepted by councils as being in ‘priority need’ and are therefore not provided with temporary accommodation.

Literature Review: The Concept of Homelessness

David Brandon was a homelessness, advocacy and mental health, and zen in the art of helping. He was one of the few people ‘advancing humanistic and socially based approaches to the problem of “single homeless people”‘. Brandon made a lasting contribution to the literature of, and research in, the field. Here a special mention needs to be made of the work he did with Kim Wells, Caroline Francis and Eaun Ramsey and reported in The Survivors (Brandon et. al. 1980).

The study was based on detailed interviews with over a hundred young people connected with two London night-shelters (Centrepoint and North, Highgate) and the West End Reception Centre. The research was funded by the Department of Health and Social Security. Significantly, the researchers were able to follow up a large number of those interviewed a year or more later (between 40 and 50 per cent). It had produced the most substantial and thorough study of young homeless people at that time (and for some years to come). As they comment in their introduction, ‘the term homeless reflects mainly the views of those who have responsibility for, or influenced the making of social policy over the centuries. The voice of the defined has rarely been heard’.

Children’s Services Planning

Children’s Services Planning was made mandatory in March 1996. Plans bring together services for children and young people in need (up to the age of 18, or 21 in the case of those who have been looked after). Local authorities must assess the needs of children in their area, consult a wide range of bodies (including voluntary organisations) in planning how that need should be me, and publish the resulting plans. Guidance issued to local authorities encourages (but cannot legally require) joint planning for the welfare of children generally.

The Government has announced that the guidance will be strengthened by making joint planning a duty of the corporate authority as a whole and requiring other local agencies to contribute.

(Social exclusion on your people pdf, p. 54).

Definition of Homelessness in the United Kingdom (website: Answers.com)

“All local authorities have a legal duty to provide 24-hour advice to homeless people, or those who are at risk of becoming homeless within 28 days (two months in Scotland).”

A person must not be intentionally homeless, and people arriving from abroad (including British citizens who have lived abroad for some time) are excluded. If a person does not have any connections with the local area, then they might be required to return to the home area.”

Even if the local authority decides a person is not homeless, it still must provide advice and assistance in finding accommodation, or provide a temporary place to stay while they find a permanent home. Although enquiries are being made about circumstances.

People will have a “priority need” for being provided with permanent housing if any of the following apply: pregnant, have dependent children, homeless because of an emergency such as a flood or a fire, aged 16 or 17 (except in Northern Ireland), elderly, have a physical or mental illness or disability, are at risk of exploitation or have been in care, are at risk of domestic violence or other threats of violence, homeless after leaving hospital, prison or the armed forces.

METHOD USED IN THIS STUDY

Questionnaires were given to young people aged 16 – 19 from the area of Skelmersdale, West Lancashire. The questionnaires revolve around their complaints on the West Lancashire Homelessness Strategy document, and the West Lancashire District Council. Surveys and telephone interviews were also conducted on the members and principal players of the different working group and forums. These groups were very cooperative. Shelter representatives were willing interviewees about the defects in the documents.

CONCLUSION/RECOMMENDATION:

Although the document, West Lancashire Homelessness Strategy, seems to be a perfect document, it portrays a different picture in the field. Shelter (West Lancashire), in it website, revealed a different picture. It says that young people face a great disadvantage and difficulty, and also face disadvantage in the social security system, as their entitlement to benefit is lower than for older age groups.

There is overlapping of functions in the Homelessness Strategy. Some young clients are told to come back over and over, until the need for accommodation had worsened.

Whilst the National Strategy to help homeless young people addresses the problem squarely, this is not the case down to the local government level. Young and vulnerable people in the West Lancashire District, most particularly in Skelmersdale area, have a lot to complain about. Priority need for young people is still in question. They really do not know as to when their application for accommodation would be answered. This would only be answered until they had stayed for a long time in a friend’s or, probably, a stranger’s residence.

Recommendations from young people, in the area of Skelmersdale, that they believe could address their housing requirements: (How the Homeless Strategy does not meet the needs of Homeless Young People)

The vulnerable 16 – 19 age group should be given priority and the waiting period should not last longer than twenty-four hours from the date the application was received;

Independent advocacy can help young people. This can be in the form of improved advice and information, which can also increase the effectiveness with which young homeless people present their case to the statutory authorities.

A particular need to improve the information and support services for the young homeless people not in priority need.

Young people recognise the need for temporary, supported accommodation which should also be one concern by local authorities.

Legislative changes for young homeless people must be regarded as a necessary tool for the improvement of support needs.

6. Simplify the functions of the different groups or forums.

7. Constant and regular dialogue between the Council and young people should be instituted.

References

Creating Sustainable Communities: Supporting Independence Consultation on a Strategy for the Supporting People Programme, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, London November 2005, can be found online at:

http://www.spkweb.org.uk/NR/rdonlyres/10C89D5B-70B3-43C9-8E48-48074B2ABA71/6902/InitialStrategyDocumentBookmarkedFinalPDF.pdf

David Brandon, Compassion, can be found online at: http://www.infed.org/archives/e-texts/brandon_compassion.htm

Homelessness definition at Answers.com website:

http://www.answers.com/homelessness 20in 20the 20uk?web.x=1

Housing Act 1996, can be found online at:

http://www.opsi.gov.uk/ACTS/acts1996/96052–d.htm

Internet version of Children Act 1989, Homelessness Act, and West Lancashire Homeless Strategy, were obtained from links of the site: http://www.opsi.gov.uk

National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal, Report of Policy Action Team 12: Young People, can be found online at:

http://www.asylumsupport.info/publications/socialexclusionunit/youngpeople.pdf

North West Regional Homelessness Strategy 2006, North West Regional Housing Board, can be found online at: http://www.nwrhb.org.uk/showcatarticle.asp?articleid=147&catid=20

Then follow this link:

http://www.nwrhb.org.uk/ 5Carticleimages 5CNorth 20West 20Regional 20Homelessness 20Strategy 202006 20- 20consultation 20paper.pdf

Shelter website, More Priority Needed, acrobat version, p. 1-35, retrieved 2007-04-13, http://england.shelter.org.uk/advice/advice-135.cfm

The Social Exclusion Unit’s Policy Action Team Approach to Policy Development: The Views of Participants September 2002, can be found on line at:

http://www.policyhub.gov.uk/docs/SEU_PAT_report.PDF

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