Welfare Changes Threaten Winter Night Shelters and Increase Homelessness

  • Welfare changes could threaten winter night shelters and increase homelessness

    Homeless Link has warned that changes to welfare could put winter night shelters under threat and see the death toll rise this winter.

    Research by Homeless Link has found that last winter emergency homeless shelters played a vital role in preventing the deaths of many rough sleepers.

    Homeless Link has produced a new guide for local communities on setting up a winter shelter- ‘Severe Weather Emergency Protocol and Extended Winter Provision' which is guidance for local authorities, voluntary sector and faith based groups.  You can download the guidance here.

    This guidance is designed to support local authorities and agencies to provide appropriate responses during the winter and periods of severe weather. Local areas should have enough adequate provision to prevent rough sleeping at any time of year. However, the winter period provides different opportunities for engaging with entrenched rough sleepers and hard-to-reach groups and increased support is often available.

    According to their survey of 126 services, it has revealed that 4,863 people sought shelter from the cold during the last winter, a quarter of whom had not approached services for help before. Additionally, 10% of individuals were destitute people from abroad who, because of their immigration status, had no entitlement to welfare benefits.

    The survey revealed that a third of shelters were funded to some extent by housing benefit. There is still two-thirds who receive no funding for this and there is a great deal of uncertainty over whether those receiving funding will continue to do so once Universal Credit is launched.

    During 2012-13 there were some particularly prolonged and late periods of severe weather, with the latest period of extreme cold lasting well into April. Many agencies struggled to keep their services open this late due to exhausted funds and shortages of staff. Homeless Link have provided this guide to highlights the importance that agencies plan well ahead for all possible eventualities, and that they are fully prepared to provide services at any point when the need arises.

    They have reported that many services expressed fears that welfare reform could exacerbate the situation as the rollout of universal credit, the bedroom tax and benefit cap may increase demand for help.

    With uncertainty about how some shelters will be funded this year, Homeless Link is calling on councils and services to begin planning emergency winter provision now. The umbrella body is also calling on government to clarify whether winter shelters will be able to continue to be funded once universal credit is introduced.

    Homeless Link's Chief Executive, Rick Henderson, has commented:

    It's a simple fact - cold weather shelters save lives. With a continued trend towards more severe winters anything that threatens the work of shelters should concern us all. National and local government must ensure that the resources are in place to fund their essential work and that welfare reform does not put added pressure on already stretched services. 

    We appeal to areas to start planning now for how they will ideally provide winter long shelter and use the opportunity to ensure that individuals do not end up back on the streets.  

    Alison Gelder, Chief Executive of Housing Justice said:

    It is vital that Local Authorities fulfil their duty to provide shelter for everyone in their area during the cold weather. We encourage them to work with churches and faith groups who currently provide a large proportion of the winter support upon which many people rely. The threats posed by funding cuts and changes to benefits are very serious and agencies must work together more effectively to prepare for the winter and ensure that nobody is left to face the cold on the streets.

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