What can the pandemic teach us about ending homelessness?
Michelle Anderson is a recent graduate from the University of Birmingham’s School of Social Policy, who received the Jane Slowey Memorial Bursary from Commonweal in her final year.
Last year it was an honour to be awarded the Jane Slowey Memorial Bursary from Commonweal to help support my final year of studies. The £2,500 grant money allowed me to rent private accommodation in the heart of Birmingham City Centre, equipped with my own bathroom, kitchen, and living area. This environment helped me throughout my dissertation process, as having my own space allowed me to concentrate and carry out my research to the best of my abilities.
My dissertation set out to explore how the pandemic can evidence a rapid and urgent reform of homelessness prevention in the UK. To answer my question, “Homelessness: What difference might Covid-19 make to the cause”, I collected secondary evidence into the effectiveness of the homeless and welfare initiatives introduced during the pandemic.
Research shows the Scottish Government’s ‘End Homelessness Together’ scheme and the ‘Everyone In’ campaign implemented by the UK Government successfully reduced the number of rough sleepers at the start of the pandemic. The welfare policies put forward at this time, such as the expansion of housing support for people with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) that cannot access the majority of welfare benefits, also helped keep people off the streets.
Although the temporary measures reduced the number of rough sleepers for some time, once they came to an end, the homeless population grew. Accordingly, this exposed the sense of powerlessness felt by rough sleepers from being unable to control external factors, such as policy reforms, that play a vital role in preventing homelessness.
Additionally, my findings uncovered the lack of cohesion and community consensus to tackle homelessness for good, highlighting the wider issue of anomie in the UK. Such as when the ‘Everyone In’ scheme ended, individuals formerly housed in hotels received alternative help, revealing the country’s lack of long-term housing solutions to end rough sleeping.
Evidence from the pandemic shows how third sector organisations can advocate social change, bolster support from public services, promote enterprises and strengthen communities, which are vital to tackling rough sleeping. Subsequently, my research recommends that the work of the third sector is essential in empowering communities to break the negative stigma against homeless people and provide outreach to vulnerable individuals.
In addition to the essential role of the third sector in ending homelessness, my dissertation concludes that by treating homelessness as an emergency issue, as it was at the start of the pandemic, policy can begin to instil consensus within the UK that no one should be without a home.
After receiving my Jane Slowey Memorial Bursary, I enrolled in a programme called Caribbean Elective and was elected winner. As a result, I now have a full paid internship working with the local government in a small fishing village in St Lucia. I secured this position by presenting my solutions to the representative of the village. As such, Commonweal and the Bursary contributed to this preparation process and helped me land an incredible opportunity.
Once this concludes, I hope to use my experience with Commonweal and my internship in St Lucia as a ‘stepping-stone’ for a dedicated career in advocating for social justice, so I can make a difference to people’s lives just as Jane Slowey did.