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The reconnection of rough sleepers: the disconnect between policy and practice must be urgently addressed

The reconnection of rough sleepers has grown in popularity in recent years, yet very little is known about its impact on the people affected.

Crisis research released today reveals that the principles behind reconnection are sound and the intervention has the potential to generate positive outcomes. However, there is often a disconnect between national policy and the way reconnection is implemented.

‘Reconnection’ is defined as ‘the process by which people sleeping rough, who have a connection to another area … are supported to return to this area in a planned way’ (Homeless Link 2013).

The rationale behind the policy is that it will maximise positive outcomes by assisting rough sleepers to return to areas where they have existing support or a ‘connection’, and prompt councils to take responsibility for ‘their own’ rough sleepers.

Government guidance (CLG 2006) defines ‘connection’ in general terms. For example, as having had stable accommodation or employment, or accessed services in an area. It also acknowledges that reconnection should not be used as a response for all rough sleepers.

What happens in practice?

The research found that ‘local connection’ criteria are widely used in a blanket fashion to assess whether and where rough sleepers are entitled to services. Rough sleepers’ personal views on where they consider to be ‘home’ are given little if any weighting in assessments.

This is a major departure from the original intent of the national reconnection policy.

On top of this, no data on reconnections is collected at national level. What data we do have is very limited; the only exception being London, where reconnections are recorded on the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) database.

A main finding is that reconnections from London to another area outside the capital make up a relatively small proportion of all reconnections – fewer than one in five (18%).

Click on the image below to expand it.

rough sleepers - where are they being reconnected to from London

Existing data also suggests that the support given to rough sleepers in the lead-up to and during such reconnections is, in most cases, limited and the intensity of support given varies hugely.

Another striking finding is that outcomes are recorded for only a tiny minority of cases. Outcomes data available in London are summarised below. It is striking that no outcome information was recorded for 89% of those reconnected outside London after 24 hours, and this figure rose to 94% at three months.

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Infographic that shows how little we know about what happens to rough sleepers after they are reconnected

Less than 1% of these rough sleepers were seen sleeping rough in London again at any of the time periods recorded, which is encouraging. But it is nevertheless a huge concern that so little is known about the aftermath of interventions.

Though positive outcomes are more likely in some circumstances, the research suggests that many people are very resistant to being reconnected. In particular where they think they may be at risk of harm (but have no formal evidence of threat), the services offered are of poor quality, or provide only a temporary solution. In such cases, people usually remain in or return to rough sleeping.

What needs to happen?

Data limitations aside, the research concludes that reconnection works best when rough sleepers have meaningful connections to another area.

Rather than reducing the concept of connection to a set of rigid rules, it is vital that time is invested in advocating support on people’s behalf, and they must be given choice regarding where and how they are reconnected.

People must be well supported throughout the process and post-reconnection checks should be conducted.

Crucially, reconnection should not be used as a way to restrict or ration access to services.

The Government has an important role to play and must ensure the policy is better resourced in future. It should also collect more data on reconnections at national level so its scale and nature can be better understood, and introduce a reconnections outcomes framework which provides a national overview of how well reconnection is working across the UK.

Reconnection can be a way for homeless people to rebuild their lives. But currently there is often a disconnect between national policy and the way in which reconnection is implemented on the ground. This matters because it has an impact on the experiences of those affected and the effectiveness of reconnection more generally.