Tim Farron commitment to end homelessness – reason to be proud, but also conscious of a great challenge

A party press release yesterday said:

The Liberal Democrats have committed to ending the scandal of rough sleeping in Britain, as the Homelessness Reduction Bill enters into force today.

Following a campaign visit to the Hundred Houses Society, a charitable housing association in Cambridge, Tim Farron announced a series of measures the party would put in place to help end rough sleeping.

These include introducing a Housing First provider in each local authority, to put long-term homeless people straight into independent homes rather than emergency shelters. Other policies include increasing funding for local councils for homelessness prevention, reinstating housing benefit for under-21s and reversing planned cuts to Local Housing Allowance rates.

This is a good reason to be very proud of our party. Making this commitment is a big deal. Housing is a basic human right, and we are right to base our policy on that.

Shelter advocate an approach based on the American “Housing First” model. I see that Tim Farron embraces that method.

As Shelter say:

…no single model of housing and support is likely to be effective for all homeless people with complex needs. (We have) previously called for the consideration and development of new approaches.

A lot of this is about basic “bricks and mortar”. There is a severe shortage of affordable housing.

On the other hand, much of this is about human interaction, the treatment of mental illness and addiction therapy.

There is no “once size fits all” approach.

Solving homelessness will require more trained professionals who go out onto the streets and treat each case one by one, with flexible support mechanisms behind them.

Even when hostel accommodation is available, there are those who, for a variety of reasons, prefer to sleep, or have to sleep, in tents, or sleep rough, unprotected from the elements. (Often hostels have a “one strike and you are out” approach to drug use on site – some people are “free spirits” and simply don’t want to be in an “institution”.).

So this is a really stubborn, complex problem which demands housing resources, but also the individual human touch.

One thing, I am sure of, is that Tim Farron has made the right initial move. We cannot, as a society, accept that there are homeless or even badly housed people amongst us and we must make a conscious effort to solve this shameful problem in our society.

It really is insane and disgraceful that we are a rich society with mobile phones and walk-in showers, but we have people curled up, barely protected from the cold, in our own towns and cities.

Commitment to eradicating this blight is the welcome first step in a long journey.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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27 Comments

  • The pledge is to end rough sleeping, not homelessness. Most ‘homeless’ people don’t sleep on the streets, they sleep on friend’s sofas or in hostels. Ending rough sleeping is a bold aim, and a good one. But we shouldn’t conflate it with homelessness, which is a much bigger problem. It’s important to get the terminology right:

  • richard underhill 28th Apr '17 - 1:25pm

    We have been watching the repeats of Grand Designs on More4, which has some good ideas. Concrete blocks are available at one third the weight of normal blocks. They are also better insulators. Curved double glazing is possible, but needs to fit exactly. Some environmental ideas cost extra or cause extra delay.

  • richard underhill 28th Apr '17 - 1:27pm

    Dig out Paddy Ashdown’s campaign on rough sleeping. One Tory MP copied it, but was caught going home early.

  • Nicholas Cunningham 28th Apr '17 - 1:31pm

    It’s a national disgrace that people are sleeping rough on our streets. Yes, the reasons can be very complicated and challenging but my own council, a Tory one, pretends the issue doesn’t exist, they refuse point-blank for any additional help or resources to be allocated. So it’s great the at least one political party has raised this issue in this election campaign.

  • As a matter of fact Tim Farron, a few years ago, led a campaign and a ‘sleep out’ in Kendal. My daughter took part and was so impressed with Tim she got her sixth form friends to vote for him.

  • Sue Sutherland 28th Apr '17 - 2:03pm

    While this is welcome I do hope that the party understands that people who have been sleeping rough for a length of time will need tremendous help to make a go of it in their own home. Sometimes it’s better to have supported housing so they can learn the skills the need before they can manage to live on their own.

  • Paul, My wife and I are volunteers in a programme that supplies those ‘sleeping rough’ with hot coffee/tea, soup and bacon/sausage rolls…I agree there is no “one size fits all” approach; some of those we meet have been sleeping rough for years, others have recently ‘fallen on hard times’…
    Statements like, “it needs basic “bricks and mortar”, “human interaction, the treatment of mental illness and addiction therapy”, “more trained professionals who go out onto the streets and treat each case one by one, with flexible support mechanisms behind them.” are a meaningless wish list without the money to pay for these resources…

    Where are you going to get this money? Increased taxes/council tax will have priorities; where, on the ladder of demands (including NHS, child poverty, etc.) will this initiative sit?

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Apr '17 - 5:15pm

    Paul Walter

    We usually have a fully costed and detailed budget when we go into a general election, so this will show how the books will be balanced and how this will be paid for.

    So why didn’t we mention this on the issue of tuition fees in the 2010-15 government?

    If we had been able to say “this is how we would have paid for it, but the Tories refused to accept it”, wouldn’t we have been in a better position?

  • Since it is a Lib Dem election pledge, this really means he is going to triple rough sleeping.

  • Dave Orbison 28th Apr '17 - 6:53pm

    Paul Walter – yes I swallowed the “we have a costed manifesto” line from Nick Clegg in 2010. This was quickly ditched by the LibDems who justified their change of direction by embracing austerity. When we gullible voters complained we were patronisingly told and that to actually expect LibDems to deliver costed commitments was ‘being wholly unrealistic’ as we clearly knew the LibDems would not form their own Government.

    The relevance? First you can hardly expect people to swallow that line again. Also the plight of the homeless and need for various social programmes to help tackle underlying issues was not helped by the austerity model so willingly fronted by the likes of Danny Alexander not to mention benefit sanctions and the Bedroom tax.

  • @Sue, I’ve seen a few plans for building cheap, small homes designed for homeless people as something of a half-way house for them to get used to having their own space, and the responsibilities that come with it. I think the intention is that people might stay there for a few months, maybe up to a year, by which time they should be ready to move on and let someone else use the facility. One scheme is being proposed by the man behind the Edinburgh charity Social Bite, and another one was in the Big Issue, and seemed to involve creating flats of bedsits in London out of old shipping containers, which looks a lot nicer than it sounds. The latter scenario could be squeezed into areas of brownfield land, and could be built quickly, and one unit would be an office and laundry and so on.

    The big challenge for those schemes would be ensuring that people did progress and were able to move out after a reasonable period of time, and it didn’t become just another tier of social housing.

  • Martin Land 28th Apr '17 - 7:59pm

    Well done Tim. Nice to see a political leader prioritising the needs of a group of people who are not in a position to vote for them. It demonstrates that we are a party of both the people and of principle.

  • Sue Sutherland 28th Apr '17 - 8:41pm

    That sounds like a good idea Fiona, my husband worked with homeless people for twenty years before retiring and a step by step approach seemed to work best. The other part of this is that people with drug, alcohol and mental health problems can sometimes be less than desirable neighbours which leads to other problems. It’s a good idea to give them a lot of support to start off with so they grow in confidence but failure is still all too possible.

  • Here’s the link on the shipping container idea

    http://www.bigissue.com/news/shipping-containers-answer-londons-housing-crisis/

    Just as each homeless person has their own story, each area has its own pressures, so this kind of scheme must carefully consider local needs and difficulties. In London, there is a shortage of land, but on the flip side, Londoners are going to expect that small parcels of derelict land will get built on, and this could work well if a bit of thought goes into the siting, and they don’t try to have too many in one space.

    Most councils will have rules about minimum floor space for new flats, but hopefully they’ll be able to bend the rules for this sort of scheme so they can be viable and fit for purpose. I imagine them a bit more like halls of residence, and the people who live there will have a fixed, reasonable rent which includes all of the main utilities so there is less to stress about.

  • And dare I say it, one of the benefits of the shipping container scheme is that it’s fast to build once you’ve decided on it. This will appeal to local politicians who want visible results within their term of office that they can brag about. Unfortunately, most housing projects are much more long-term, and therefore less appealing for certain politicians.

  • Mathew Huntbach. Why do you always have to find a negative in everything? We all know you hated the coalition. That was then, this is now. New leader, new ideas, new approach, no coalition. So please, either get on board or go away. Your choice

  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th Apr '17 - 12:32am

    Excellent from the party and leader.

    A very solvable problem.

    No shortage of builders or architects, like with nurses or doctors.

    Money and strategy and intent.

    Get to it government !

  • Dave Orbison 29th Apr '17 - 8:46am

    Mick Taylor you take issue with Mathew Huntbach because he, as did I in a following post, picked up on the line in Paul’s argument that the manifesto will be “fully costed”. It may irritate you when others express some cynicism but inviting them to clear off is hardly a winning election strategy. It simply reflects the views of many former and potential LibDem voters when the “fully costed” line is used again. Wouldn’t it be prudent to consider what reservations voters may have and to consider how these could be countered?

    As for “that was the Coalition” this is now. That’s a bit rich – it was only two years ago yet how many times have you criticised former Labour Governments? You can’t have it both ways.

    I fully support the attempts to reduce or eliminate homelessness but the LibDems are not the only party who care, it isn’t an easy fix, it will cost a lot of money. Voters will view any manifesto claim to eliminate an issue with some suspicion. I think that was the point he was making. Some contributors seem to imply if only they would elect LibDems then this terrible problem would be solved. Been there, got the t-shirt.

  • Stop selling empty barracks and utilise them. They have significant accommodation and washing facilities along with the type of industrial kitchens to feed large numbers.

    Turn them over to the charitable sector and the government could supply the energy required as their contribution. Co host food banks and charities like citizens advice etc and all of a sudden the site is back in the service of the public.

    It certainly beats making them into posh apartments for rich people.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Apr '17 - 9:04am

    Mick Taylor

    Mathew Huntbach. Why do you always have to find a negative in everything?

    Because I want the Liberal Democrats to win, and I am pointing out mistakes made which I feel damaged our party. I want such mistakes not to be made in future.

    You say I “hated the coalition”. Actually I accepted it and defended it. It was not my preferred government by a long means, but I could see that with the balance of MPs following the 2010 general election it was the only stable government that could have been formed. I do not believe one can support the concept of multi-party politics and yet be opposed to the idea of coalitions.

    My defence of the coalition throughout was that its policies would inevitably reflect the balance of MPs in it, and there were five times as many Conservative MPs as Liberal Democrat MPs. Therefore its policies would be much more Conservative than Liberal Democrat, and I think in fact that’s just what they were – what one would expect from a government that is five-sixths Conservative and one-sixth Liberal Democrat.

    We should have made that clear, but we did not. So people ended up thinking that the policies of the coalition were our ideal, rather than a compromise reached in a situation where all we could really do is tip the balance in the Conservative Party a bit. We should have made it clear that had the balance been different, as it would have been had there been proportional representation, the coalition would have had policies closer to ours. Also it would have made a Labour-LibDem coalition viable, which would greatly increase our strength in negotiation.

    I believe politics and democracy has been greatly damaged by the failure to talk about issues in realistic terms. That’s why I say when we talk about things that cost government money, we must also talk about taxation. When we talk about housing, we must be honest and say there are no easy solutions. Just yesterday I was looking at a local paper with an article on a big protest on some plans to build more houses somewhere. It’s no good, as some do, just waving hands and saying “build more houses” as if this can easily be done with no objections.

    If the difficult balancing aspects of policies are made more clear, than actually it is easy to get them through. Why, Mick, do you oppose my call for honesty on these issues?

  • Peter Watson 29th Apr '17 - 9:56am

    @Matthew Huntbach
    You make too many good points for me to pull out a single quote and say, “I agree”!
    The presentation of the policies of a Tory-dominated coalition as if they were what Lib Dems wanted was very convincing and very damaging.

  • Dave Orbison 29th Apr '17 - 11:37am

    Matthew Huntbach – excellent post. Whilst I do not always agree with you, I wholeheartedly support comments in you last post. We need for people to engage and debate policies and strategy especially if we disagree not tell dissents to ‘go away’. To me the very essence of politics is to campaign and try and gain support for policies as opposed to the lazy politics that we have seen in recent decades which is based on entirely reflecting views of focus groups or echoing opinion polls.

    Above all, I think you hit the nail on the head re dishonesty over taxation. In the last 20+ years all parties have been guilty of promising low taxation whilst simultaneously improving public services. Politicians are bullied by a right wing media that dishes out a daily political narrative rather than reports objectively on issues. It all ill serves the country and political debate and awareness is the poorer for it.

  • Mick – so Matthew isn’t welcome but Mail columnists who write transphobic articles apparently are.

    I don’t see how you campaign to end rough sleeping without acknowledging the failure of the coalition government when it more than doubled

  • Phil Beesley 29th Apr '17 - 4:20pm

    Thanks, Matthew Huntbach, for your comments about the coalition government. They are probably more eloquent than my thoughts and memories. On one point, student funding, I disagree again.

    Matthew Huntbach: “If we had been able to say “this is how we would have paid for it, but the Tories refused to accept it”, wouldn’t we have been in a better position?”

    As a party, we should have stepped away from the zero fees pledge when it looked like banks were going down a plughole. Personally, I wouldn’t have made the pledge in the first place.

    I believe that universities should be elite institutions. Elite, otherwise there is no purpose. And 40% or 50% of the population can’t make an elite.

    I believe that all citizens should have access to continuing education. Every blooming one of them.

    In order to fund continuing education, we have to spend money wisely, more cautiously. It might even mean mean telling middle class parents that we’re not paying for their child to go to university. Instead we could create more life/work/personal development opportunities for all people — whatever their age.

    Following the alleged £9,000 per annum bill for degree education, post 18 years education has changed a bit. There are new opportunities for young people in non-institutional education. More, please.

    I want more opportunities and the chance to grow up, to pursue interests that didn’t bother you at age 18.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th Apr ’17 – 12:32am…………..Excellent from the party and leader…….
    A very solvable problem………No shortage of builders or architects, like with nurses or doctors……….Money and strategy and intent…..

    I don’t know where to start?????

    However, let’s look at just half a dozen of my ‘regulars’….

    1 and 2 are usually ‘spaced out’.They both have old bicycles with their ‘treasures’; they are withdrawn and hardly speak but stick together…
    3 used to sleep, with his girlfriend, in a tent (a gift from an ex-army buddy), on council waste land. The council confiscated (he says ‘stole’) his tent and he now sleeps in a doorway. His girlfriend has disappeared…
    4 talks incessantly (to anyone and no-one). He has had psychological problems and has been banned from local shelters for drug use…
    5 is older than the rest (mid 40s; hard to tell) says he was kicked out by his wife (three kids) when she got a boyfriend. He was overjoyed a few weeks ago when he showed me a letter from the council offering him a house (he even had the address). Last week he was it back; “There were problems”…
    6 perhaps an alcoholic. he has been sleeping rough for over five years. He wears a singed sleeping bag around his shoulders and says teenagers ‘burnt him out’ from under a bridge…
    My wife and I don’t give advice or pass judgement; we hand out the food/drink, chat but mainly listen…We only have their word for anything on drugs, prison, etc. but, although they are at the ‘bottom of any pile’ they are all very polite and invariably say ‘please and thank you’ (perhaps civility is all they have left) and perhaps we are lucky that none are violent…

    There are many more but I couldn’t begin to estimate the cost of resources, manpower and support just to turn around the lives of just these six…Perhaps you could explain how this is “A very solvable problem; no shortage of builders or architects, like with nurses or doctors.”…?

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