Lewis Edwards, Learning and Impact Manager, has recently joined the Fulfilling Lives South East (FLSE) programme. In this blog Lewis reflects on how those previously experiencing homelessness have been temporarily housed during COVID-19 and how the current pandemic can be used to encourage systemic change.

In response to COVID-19, the UK government allocated an additional £3.2m to local authorities in March to temporarily house rough sleepers during the crisis. Reports suggest that as many as 5400 rough sleepers have been given temporary accommodation in hotels. As the discussion has turned to what will happen after the ‘lockdown’, the fate of those who have been housed during the pandemic remains uncertain. The government has just announced that it is bringing forward funding to provide 3300 long-term homes in the next twelve months, as well as additional funding to provide support to those housed [1]. While this news is welcome, there is still concern that if immediate funding is not continued for emergency accommodation placements, many will return to street homelessness in the coming months before long-term housing is available [2].

At Fulfilling Lives South East, we have taken a keen interest in the local housing situation. In addition to supporting Homeless Link’s #EveryoneInForGood campaign, we are preparing to gather examples of good practice from across the range of housing providers and support services within our localities. We are particularly interested to know what changes have enabled services to accommodate people during the crisis and what has helped people to remain housed. Looking further ahead we hope that this learning might be used to inform our local authorities’ plans for the post-lockdown transition.

This last aim is perhaps the most challenging. After the lockdown, systems and services will have an opportunity to embed and develop the positive changes that have occurred during COVID-19 rather than reverting to old practices and habits. In some areas this may prove quite straight-forward, for example, at FLSE we could continue to use video conferencing tools with clients and staff when it is preferable to face to face meeting. In other areas, not least housing, there may be major roadblocks ahead and few easy answers to the question, ‘what next?’

The housing situation is just one of the many systemic issues that impacts disproportionately on the lives of people who face multiple disadvantage, but it exemplifies how positive systemic changes have rapidly taken place since the start of the crisis that were previously not, or not thought to be, possible. Yet it also highlights the transient nature of the crisis response and the fact that opportunities to bring about change occur within a complex interdependence of finite resources. Positive change has come about, but in some instances only because resources have been redistributed on a temporary basis. Put simply, hotels will want their rooms back.

Thus, while we need to ask normative questions, i.e. what changes should be continued after lockdown, we must also seek to identify the mechanisms by which these changes can be sustained. Careful attention to the ‘how’ question is especially important if we wish to influence local authorities and services as they make plans for the future. Services may be far more receptive to our suggestions about what ought to happen if they are substantiated by carefully considered strategies for implementation and offers of support. A question we have been asking in FLSE as we plan our housing research is what we can do to support systems and services during and after COVID-19 by formulating answers, not just asks.

Fortunately, reflecting on these issues is made easier because of the work of our partners and others in the charity   and voluntary sector who are on a similar trajectory. RSA have developed a model that helps services to identify the activities that have paused, stopped, and started during the pandemic, and those that should restart, stay stopped, or be retained and developed post-crisis. Another example is Collaborate for Social Change, who have produced a COVID-19 learning framework that helps organisations to systematically think through what they have learnt during the crisis and how they might act on this learning both immediately and in the longer term. As we learn from one another and problem solve collaboratively, we will be better placed to offer tangible solutions and make realistic asks of national and local government, thus maximising the opportunities for systemic reform in the aftermath of COVID-19.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/6-000-new-supported-homes-as-part-of-landmark-commitment-to-end-rough-sleeping

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/26/london-mayor-rough-sleeper-funding-run-out-sadiq-khan-homeless-hotels