In Conversation with Crisis

BY Almeida Theatre   April 27, 2016

During rehearsals for Boy, Assistant director Caitriona Shoobridge met with Francesca Albanese from Crisis, a national charity for homeless people. Below are excerpts from their conversation. 

Caitriona: In the last month or so, every day I’ve read about the doubling number of people sleeping rough – why do you think that is, or what points to that?

Francesca: You have to look at it in the context of welfare reform… There’s been large amounts of cuts made to housing benefit levels in the last five years, which means it’s more difficult for somebody who’s on housing benefits to find accommodation that’s affordable in their area, so that’s definitely one thing. We’ve seen a lack of supply of affordable housing anyway, so social housing has been more and more restricted; we’re not building enough homes, we haven’t been for a long time, and so getting access to housing that’s affordable is very, very difficult, particularly social housing. Also, there have been quite a lot of cuts to local authority funding, so what you’re seeing is where there used to be a lot of money given to help what’s called ‘housing-related support’ – that would help people within, sort of, if they’re in their own tenancy and they need support they would get what’s called ‘floating support,’ so it’s assistance when you’re in your own home to help you sustain that tenancy – when people are set up in tenancies they’d get access to that, so we’ve seen local authorities not being able to provide as much support as they once used to be able to.

 

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Caitriona: And the primary function of local authorities is supposed to be social care, isn’t it? Like, 60 percent of it is to look after… and that’s taken a knocking.

Francesca: That’s taken a massive chunk in… What’s happened is the support for housing and homelessness used to be ring-fenced and was allocated to local authorities based on need in their area. And the government took that ring-fence away, so local authorities have discretion on how they spend their money, and in some areas they’ve really reduced the amount that’s being spent on homelessness.

 

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Caitriona: And that’s an independent decision, that’s not government-wide?

Francesca: No, so, I mean – the thing is, local authorities are in a really hard place.

Caitriona: They’ve got to cut something, haven’t they?

Francesca: Yeah, and they have to make a decision based on everybody that’s in need in their area. You know, how do you make a choice between homelessness and older people? It’s those sorts of decisions that they’re making. I think the other thing that’s really kind of changed it is we’re also seeing hostel provision going down. So when I was in my last job, we used to do a piece of research every year which looked at the number of bed spaces there were available for homeless people, and that’s gone down year on year. So you’re also seeing the provision of emergency beds going down and accommodation in hostels being reduced as well. What we’ve found in some research that they did on youth homelessness is that if they don’t have a scheme, young people have been sort of falling through the gaps, and they might end up staying temporarily with a friend, but that’s not really a sustainable option. Finding them long-term accommodation with the support that they need is more and more restricted, and it’s more difficult for them. For example, I did an interview last year with a young person; he had schizophrenia and he was living with his mum, but it just wasn’t working out for them – his mental [health] problems were too much of a strain on his mum… The community mental health team were working with him, and they got him a social tenancy, but he’d never lived on his own before. So he was given social housing, but he wasn’t given any furniture, he wasn’t given any skills around budgeting, nobody talked to him about how it worked, so it got him into a massive amount of rent arrears, but the local authority didn’t step in to help. The Housing Association then evicted him and he ended up rough sleeping before he got picked up by a Street Outreach team and then they moved him into a foyer, actually, that was more suitable. What is quite interesting, I thought, about this case, is that had he received the support in the social tenancy to begin with…

 

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Caitriona: Yeah, he’d have been set up in the best place.

Francesca: Yeah, what he needed, he needed help with his mental health; he needed help with his budgeting, he needed help to source furniture so he could...

Caitriona: And aren’t they supposed to… I’m just wracking my brains about all the things I’ve read about councils recently but, are they not supposed to have a fund for that, for furniture and stuff like that?

 

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Francesca: That’s been reduced as well – so there’s things like that as well, there’s just more demand for stuff and less money, and I mean, that’s, you know – there’s lots of cases where people do get the appropriate help they need from the Housing Association. But I think the problem is that when it does go wrong, it goes very wrong, and you end up with someone who’s very, very vulnerable being in a situation where they shouldn’t be.

 

Boy | 5 April - 28 May | Info & Tickets