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Turning the tide on rural rough sleeping

The problem of rural rough sleeping is becoming increasingly recognised, not least by organisations such as English Rural, who have recently published a guide to evidence-led approaches to tackling rough sleeping in rural communities. Keith Smith, Director of Ferry Project a Homeless Link member organisation based in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire has welcomed the guide. Keith describes the availability of rough sleeper services across England as a “post code lottery […] in nearly all cases people living in rural communities are at a disadvantage when compared to people living in urban communities if they become homeless”.

In this guest blog, Rory Weal, Strategic Policy Lead for rural homelessness at English Rural, and a speaker at our upcoming Rough Sleeping Conference sets out the importance of taking a tailored approach to the unique challenges of helping those sleeping rough in rural locations.

How can we make outreach fit for purpose in rural England?

When we think of rural England, our mind might conjure up images of rolling hills and picturesque villages. But the reality of life in too many of our rural communities is a far cry from that perception. In secluded parts of the country far removed from bustling city streets, too many people are bedding down without a roof over their heads. Though often hidden, this is a stark reality for growing numbers of people in rural communities. It challenges the conventional perception that rough sleeping is solely an urban issue and underscores the truth that homelessness knows no geographical bounds.

Outreach teams – who go out to find and support people sleeping rough – can be the difference between life and death for many. Finding and supporting people who face the injustice and danger of having no roof over their head is at the very centre of any effective approach to ending rough sleeping for good.

The Rural Homelessness Counts coalition sees firsthand the indispensable role outreach teams can play in isolated rural settings. Stories from our coalition highlight the critical nature of outreach in rural environments, where need can look very different. People may find themselves without shelter in woods, cars, or abandoned buildings, far from the watchful eyes of society. Our rural outreach workers face daunting challenges – from the vast distances between often threadbare services to the invisibility of those in need.

But a broad coalition are increasingly facing up to the challenge. We know that despite a very tough funding landscape, service providers and many local authorities are working determinedly to turn the tide on rural rough sleeping.

Homeless Link’s new Principles for rough sleeping outreach can help us in this effort. They offer an important opportunity to ensure outreach services work effectively to end rough sleeping in communities of all shapes and sizes, the length and breadth of the country.

These principles echo much of what our coalition has learnt from local authorities and service providers working to end rural rough sleeping. The principle of timely and purposeful interventions is central to this work. Reducing barriers such as verification is key to this, for example as embodied by Stratford-upon-Avon District Council outreach teams who use a ‘balance of probability’ approach to verification, which allows people sleeping rough to be verified and access services in a more flexible way. This has helped to make access to emergency accommodation, housing and support more timely.

The emphasis on close partnership working can also be critical to securing timely interventions. This is especially true in rural settings where dispersed communities and fragmented service provision makes it harder for people to get support. In the New Forest, the local NHS Trust and the outreach service have partnered to co-locate a mental health nurse in their team. Because of this, people at risk of homelessness get the tailored support they need, at the right time, rather than waiting for overstretched community mental health services to arrive too late, without an understanding of the housing needs facing the individual. The result? Fewer hospitals admissions, more people housed, and the causes of someone’s homelessness addressed at the point of crisis.

The new Homeless Link principles remind us of the relevance and transformative potential of outreach in every community across the country. Once we see rough sleeping as something that can occur anywhere, to people with a diverse range of life experiences, we can build the kind of tailored, integrated services which can be a crucial piece in the journey towards ending rough sleeping for good.


Channel website: http://www.homelesslink.org.uk

Original article link: https://homeless.org.uk/news/turning-the-tide-on-rural-rough-sleeping/

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