Strategy To Tackle Homelessness Released

Creating a housing advice hub and permanent emergency housing service and giving income support to anyone who has lived in Jersey for more than six months have been suggested to tackle the island's homelessness issue.

The Jersey Homelessness Strategy has been described as a way to strengthen the housing safety net and give hope to everyone that their housing situation can be resolved.

An independent board was set up in 2019 to find out how big the issue of homelessness is and what can be done to fix it.

It has come up with eight key priorities to do just that.

* Making a clear definition of what homelessness is to make everyone understand it - Carrying out a formal consultation to create a definition that is placed in law so the government can then decide on future need and provision.

* Evidence the scale and nature of the issue to plan how to prevent and address it - Of 121 responses to a survey, 93% had entitled status. ‘Fairly significant numbers’ were sleeping rough regularly and at the time of the survey, around 104 people were living in temporary accommodation provided by the Shelter Trust and Sanctuary Trust.

More than 1/3 of respondents were homeless because relatives/friends were no longer able or willing to accommodate them, while 1 in 5 were homeless because they couldn't afford rent. 

The board says regular data collection is needed to find trends and act accordingly.

* Create a housing advice hub so everyone knows where to go to get help - The Jersey Homelessness Strategic Board says it would have the potential to intervene at an early stage, so people don't meet crisis point before seeking help.

It wants that based in St Helier but away from government buildings, along with an online service that can meet emergency needs 24 hours a day. The board also wants the hub to create personal housing plans to manage expectations about how much this service can help.

It has also called for more sustainable support services.

"Current advice and support services are unstructured and uncoordinated with only informal referral mechanisms.

"Government officers and support workers are generally dealing with a housing situation at a time of crisis when there is little opportunity for preventative activity."

* Create a complex needs team to help most vulnerable with housing - The government has been asked to consider creating a permanent emergency housing service, which could be based at the advice hub and merged with the outreach service provided by the Jersey Shelter Trust.

* Provide a housing safety net for all, which is appropriate, flexible and able to meet the needs of everyone - 50 to 60 people stay at Aztec House every month. Their average stay is between two and three months but some can stay for more than a year.

Survey respondents said privacy can be an issue there, particularly at high demand.

The board says sheer demand is placing a strain on Aztec House and more emergency housing needed. Staff and volunteers have raised concerns about having no emergency plans for homeless families, apart from with domestic abuse.

There is also a lack of mental health specific accommodation and longer-term support to stay in a settled home.

The board has suggested giving income support to anyone who has lived in Jersey for more than six months, there should be no shared bedrooms at Aztec House and people who go there should be referred there from the advice hub.

It has also called for funding reviews for Aztec House and the Jersey Women’s Refuge.

* Implement commissioning and regulation to ensure that housing-related support services are consistent and sustainable - The board's consultant says there is a lack of central regulation or co-ordination to deal with gaps and inconsistencies in providing support. 

The board wants one organisation to take responsibility for seeing the bigger picture of what is needed and for more government involvement to make funding 'more sustainable'.

It wants long-term funding commitments and a recognition from government that homelessness doesn’t attract same level of charitable donations that other charities get.

"Any call for additional funding to be made available at a time of public sector budget pressures is going to be difficult to achieve, but we believe that there are opportunities for the Government to work more closely with larger charitable trusts."

* Strengthen the role and supply of social housing to ensure that it is better able to meet housing need - The board wants the government to make household eligibility criteria less restrictive for the vulnerable and low-income households to access. The government has also been asked to consider access for under 25s and introduce planning policies to encourage development and access to more affordable housing.

* Support private sector tenants and landlords to promote positive relationships - The board has recommended providing a means of proving a positive track record to overcome issue of not being able to find accommodation, and to consider a review of protection from eviction and giving the tenant ‘a reasonable length of time to find a new home’, like in the UK.

After the coronavirus pandemic hit, the government worked with social housing providers to protect islanders, which included creating an emergency housing team to give advice or emergency accommodation to 200 people during pandemic, a rent increase freeze, preventing evictions for financial reasons, and giving the option to extend tenancies.

The rent freeze emergency legislation ended at the start of October 2020.

"We have learnt a lot during the pandemic, particularly about the multiple needs of the vulnerably housed and what can be achieved to end homelessness in Jersey through proactive partnerships working together. This strategy seeks to build upon the excellent work that has taken place and to ensure that we continue to move forward in providing support and accommodation for those who need it." - Simon Burgess, Independent Chair of the Jersey Homelessness Strategic Board.

New Housing Minister Deputy Jeremy Macon, who replaced Senator Sam Mezec two months ago, says this report sets out a framework for action.

"Officers have been closely involved in the strategy’s development and we will continue to work in collaboration with the Board, and the many other individuals and organisations involved in tackling homelessness to achieve its objectives.

"I am grateful to the Board for this detailed report and am pleased that the Government plan for 2021 includes actions to be taken during the year that are fully aligned to the Board’s priorities."

The board says regular updates on work to progress the eight key priorities will be given throughout 2021.

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