Specialist support slashed for homeless people with complex needs

Homeless Link reports sharp falls in proportion of projects targeting people with mental health problems and domestic violence victims.

Homeless woman Rex Features
Credit: Rex Features

Specialist support for homeless people with complex needs has been cut drastically in the past two years, research has found.

There have been dramatic falls in the proportion of support and accommodation projects providing targeted support to clients with needs including mental illness, found Homeless Link’s annual Survey of Needs and Provision (Snap) for single homeless people and couples without dependents in England.

The proportion of projects providing targeted support for people with mental illness fell from 22% in the 2011 survey to 4% this year, despite one in three homeless clients having mental health problems. For domestic violence victims, the proportion fell from 15% to 1%, for care leavers from 16% to 2%, and for people with learning disabilities from 15% to 1%.

There was even a sharp fall in support in the proportion of the 500 projects surveyed targeting rough sleepers, from 28% in the 2011 survey to 7% in 2013. The Snap report attributed the fall in specialist support to reduced funding, leading to reductions in specialist staff.

“Overall there is a sense that projects are scaling back provision to provide a more basic and generic service to clients,” it concluded.

Higher demand with reduced funding

The report comes against a backdrop of mounting levels of demand for homelessness services. The total number of households accepted as homeless by councils rose by 10% from 2011-12, while the number of people found to be sleeping rough in autumn 2012 – 2,309 – was an increase of 6% on the previous year’s figure.

At the same time, councils are making year-on-year cuts in the main source of funding for homelessness services – the Supporting People budget – and the strain on services and people at risk of homelessness is being exacerbated by welfare and social care cuts.

Homeless Link found bed spaces had fallen by 4.4% across the homelessness sector from November 2011 to November 2012, when the Snap research was conducted, and of the 500 projects surveyed, half reported a reduction in funding.

“More people than ever are seeking help with homelessness,” said Homeless Link chief executive Rick Henderson. “Our members don’t just provide a roof, they also give the specialist support people often need to get back on their feet.

“The cumulative impact of cuts is putting this vital work at risk. There are fewer specialist services and full-time professionals with the expertise to help. Homeless charities are the final safety net for those with the most complex problems. If cuts continue to reduce the capacity of the sector, where else will these individuals turn?”

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