Two UK metropolitan areas have made significant progress in tackling street homelessness but a move away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach is needed to tackle the problem globally, according to a new report.
As part of the Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH) A Place to Call Home initiative, 13 so-called “Vanguard Cities” around the world committed to individual specific targets on ending or reducing street homeless by December 2020.
New research from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh found that Glasgow achieved its target of driving down city centre rough sleeping by 75%, to fewer than seven people at any one time by that point.
Greater Manchester did not meet its “ambitious” target of completely ending all rough sleeping but researchers said there was an “impressive” 52% reduction against baseline figures, from 241 in November 2018 to 115 that month in 2020.
Sydney in Australia was the only other city to meet its target, reducing all inner-city street homelessness by 25%.
Among the cities taking part, researchers found that the presence of a lead co-ordinating agency, and co-ordinated entry to homelessness services alongside investment in “specialised and evidence-based interventions” were among the keys to progress in tackling homelessness.
Key barriers to progress included heavy reliance on undignified and sometimes unsafe communal shelters and a preoccupation with meeting immediate physiological needs, and sometimes perceived spiritual needs, rather than “structural and system change”.
Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, director of the Institute for Social Policy, Housing, Equalities Research (I-Sphere) at Heriot-Watt University, said: “Street homelessness is one of the most extreme and visible manifestations of profound injustice that our society faces today. Yet, it often struggles to achieve sufficient attention at an international level.
“While there are clear country-specific challenges that need to be overcome, this first global initiative on tackling street homelessness has highlighted the need to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach, towards more specialised interventions that target specific subgroups.
“Appropriate services for women, children, older people and other vulnerable groups, as well as culturally sensitive responses to indigenous people and other groups affected by racial and associated forms of prejudice, are essential.
“The overwhelming emphasis on emergency interventions was clear in our findings, with support applied only when people are already in crisis, rather than placing greater focus on preventative models.
“Even predictable pathways into street homelessness from institutions like prisons and hospitals have seldom attracted concerted prevention efforts and this needs to be urgently addressed.”
The other vanguard cities were Brussels in Belgium, Rijeka in Croatia, Chicago and Little Rock in the US, Edmonton in Canada, Montevideo in Uruguay, Santiago in Chile, Adelaide in Australia, Tshwane in South Africa and Bengaluru in India.
Researchers found that the coronavirus pandemic prompted better co-ordination of local efforts to address street homelessness in many cities, but the impact of the crisis was markedly different across the areas.
People at risk of street homelessness were most effectively protected in the UK and Australian cities, the study found.
Susanne Millar, chief officer at Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “We have made clear that nobody needs to sleep on the streets in Glasgow.
“We are helping the most vulnerable citizens rebuild their lives through our Housing First approach and the experience gained from managing a world-wide global pandemic has been instrumental in shaping new ways of working which focus on complexity and risk rather than homelessness status alone.”