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The Crisis Blog: conversations on matters related to homelessness.

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Jon Sparkes @jon_sparkes Crisis Chief Executive

New blog. New campaign. Old issue.

Firstly, welcome to the new Crisis blog. Stay in touch with these pages for insights and debates about issues affecting homeless people.

We start the blog on the day we launch a new campaign in Parliament called No One Turned Away – www.crisis.org.uk/nooneturnedaway. The campaign aims to tackle the problem that single homeless people are turned away from councils in England without help because they are not considered a ‘priority’.

When Crisis was founded in 1967 there was no modern homelessness legislation.  The 1977 Housing (Homeless Persons) Act was initially intended to protect all homeless people but got watered down as it went through parliament. The result was still a historic piece of legislation which for the first time protected homeless families. Yet, in doing so, it also created a two tier system. Those termed “single” – meaning without dependent children, rather than without a partner – could still be turned away to sleep on the streets.

Despite some amendments since, that flawed legislation has effectively been the backdrop for single homelessness – and the services Crisis provides – ever since. Levels of homelessness have risen and fallen: up massively in the 80s and early 90s and more recently, homelessness has risen again, thanks to the economic downturn, the housing crisis and cuts to benefits.

Yet even when homelessness rates have been at their lowest, attempts to solve the problem have been hamstrung by our two-tier laws.  In 2009, when rates of homelessness were much lower than today, Crisis sent undercover researchers with experiences of homelessness into local councils to test the help they were offered. Though this was a world before austerity, the lessons were much the same as those found by our new Turned Away research: homeless people getting turned away without the help they needed.

Though there have been various initiatives to tackle homelessness in recent years, they haven’t done enough to change the picture. Our Turned Away research contains plenty of lessons for councils to learn, not least about the importance of assessing homeless people properly and giving personalised advice and assistance. But the problems clearly run deeper.

This failing system is devastating for individuals like Tony, a man with a heart condition who was forced to sleep rough because he wasn’t a ‘priority’. But for society more widely it also makes far more sense to intervene early than to meet the cost of putting someone’s life back together after they’ve suffered on the streets.

As the ’77 Act approaches its 40th anniversary it is time for a fresh look at whether it is fit for purpose. Devolution has brought different approaches across the UK. In 2012 Scotland abolished “priority need”, meaning that anyone who is unintentionally homeless is now entitled to accommodation. Even more recently, the Welsh Assembly passed legislation that increases the help councils have to give single homeless people.

We are calling on politicians to look at the evidence of homeless people being abandoned to sleep on the streets and to commit in their manifestos to review the help that single homeless people get under the law.

If you agree, sign our petition