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March 13, 2023

Using data to end long-term rough sleeping

Fraser Nicholson

Seaside towns and coastal communities can have a particular profile of rough sleeping and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole exemplifies this.

Ours is primarily an urban coastal area surrounded by rural countryside as well as the sea, and this means that there are some natural restrictions in terms of available land. Partly due to this, property prices are at a premium, although there are large disparities including areas of significant deprivation.

In addition, the private rented sector is both large (25% of all tenures) and very much in demand, leading to high rents. There is also evidence of a growing number and proportion of holiday lets and Airbnb, whereby landlords can make the money they need in a shorter period of time, and leave the property empty for long periods.

As in many coastal areas there is a large seasonal and hospitality sector in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, which can mean fluctuations in demand for employment and the economic unpredictability of unforeseen factors such as a cool, wet summer which dampens the tourist trade.

On top of this, the current cost of living crisis is having an impact, with heightened pressure on people who have a limited income.

Pattern of repeat rough sleeping

In terms of rough sleeping, the temperate climate, relative wealth of the area and concentration of support services in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole can all contribute to drawing people to the area. But the profile of rough sleeping that we see is driven by many repeat cases of street homelessness. Our priority is to better understand this, and see it reduce significantly.

Homelessness our local area has increased steadily over the past decade or so, with rough sleeping levels in particular peaking in late 2019, a few months before the pandemic.

Following the Everyone In initiative, we at Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole retained an enhanced offer for people who were rough sleeping. This has led to ongoing high numbers in emergency accommodation, even with many people moved on to more stable housing. Government funding via the Rough Sleeping Initiative and Rough Sleeping Accommodation Programme helped with the financial burden of this, and enabled us to provide more specialist support, pilot interventions and a range of additional accommodation, ranging from off the street services to long-term homes.

As noted, much of our homelessness problem, especially regarding rough sleeping, comes from repeat cases, and there is ongoing work to address it. This includes looking at maximising prevention, remodelling pathways to support people off the streets, increasing housing-led provision and development of cross-agency work including a multi-disciplinary team. This team focuses on ensuring that effective solutions are found that learn from past placements as well as finding offers of housing that maximise choice and minimise handovers in support. We are also developing work with people who have lived experience to help shape better services and support.

We have a very strong, continually developing homelessness partnership in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole and this ensures that all partners are kept informed, involved and accountable in the work to prevent and end homelessness, as well as ensuring a wide variety of voices, insight and experiences are heard and included. This work has also included producing a co-produced homelessness and rough sleeping strategy with an overall vision of ‘Ending homelessness in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole by ensuring everyone has a safe place to live that they can call home’.

Our work with the Centre for Homelessness Impact as one of the ‘Early Adopters’ of the data-led framework to end rough sleeping has been critical to achieving and better articulating this vision.

The experience has been very positive and collaborative, with a clear focus on ensuring that everyone’s views and experiences are considered and respected. The framework has been tweaked throughout the process to work as well as possible, there had not been any efforts to shoehorn pre-determined ideas. It has also been inspiring to work with other ‘Early Adopter’ partners in this work from across the country, with some great minds and a very evident passion and determination to make a positive difference and see an end to rough sleeping in our country.

Person-focused solutions

The framework is very focused on seeking to ensure that data is used to evidence what works, and that this is scaled and replicated nationally to see a consistent approach to this work, whilst recognising and accounting for differences in areas, localities and demographics.

For us at Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, the data indicator that is proving most useful and interesting, is capturing regularly and consistently the number of people experiencing long-term rough sleeping.

Previously, we only counted long-term cases of rough sleeping when the person in question had been sleeping out for a prolonged, continuous period. As this is infrequent, with the majority found accommodation quickly, this was always a very low figure.

We have however, had a lot of cases of people losing their accommodation, or abandoning it, on several or even multiple occasions, often after very short periods in the accommodation in question. By collating the data in a new way, we can identify that the number of people returning regularly to sleeping on the street indicates that in overall terms their issues are not being resolved. Such cases are therefore better categorised as long-term rough sleeping.

This will help us better understand and appreciate the scale of this kind of scenario and seek and implement solutions that are more likely to achieve a better outcome for the person. That should ensure they are able to maintain their accommodation in the long term and, ultimately, have a safe home of their own.

Fraser Nicholson is Homelessness Partnerships Coordinator at Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council

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