Wales leads England with funds for homeless support yet rates still rise

published on 24 Aug 2022

Wales has prioritised money for services that help tackle the causes of homelessness, according to new figures in a report by The Salvation Army.

Almost a third of local authorities in Wales increased funds for both mental health and addiction support, both common root causes of homelessness, but England showed a downward trend.

However, despite this investment, almost two-thirds of Welsh local authorities still had to make cuts to either mental health or addiction services, while the number of homeless people continues to rise.

The most recent figures show that from 2020 to 2021, there were 13,161 homeless households recorded in Wales, a six per cent rise on the previous year. And from 2019 to 2020, there were an estimated 405 rough sleepers, which was a 17 per cent rise compared to the year before.

The Welsh Government has received additional funds after Westminster announced £640m per year in the 2021 Autumn Budget to tackle homelessness in England. The church and charity is calling for this extra money for Wales to also be channelled into homelessness and at least half to be ring-fenced for local authority-funded support services, especially mental health and addiction treatment.

Catherine Docherty, Assistant Regional Manager for The Salvation Army’s Homelessness Service Unit for Wales, said: "We know that local authorities see the value in support for addiction and mental health problems, but they can only stretch their money so far. If we are to end homelessness, local authorities must be helped to prioritise services that address the reasons so many fall into a homelessness downward spiral, which is so hard to recover from.

“Wales has made welcome strides in tackling the root causes of homelessness. And this reflects the effective action by local authorities, housing and health services who worked together during the pandemic to protect people sleeping rough, aided by a rapid release of financial support from the Welsh Government. However, there is still a long way to go. What’s needed now is continued efforts and sustained investment to build on what has already been achieved in Wales.

“Being homeless is never solely about being roofless; it’s a public health problem first and a housing problem second. Mental health issues and addiction can be both a cause and consequence of being homeless. We know from our work that drugs and alcohol are often used to cope with major trauma by escaping from reality. The Salvation Army homelessness services take what we call a ‘harm reduction approach’, which means we support someone to tackle not only the addiction itself but the roots and causes of their behaviour in the first place. We have seen many lives transformed this way.”

Wayne from Cardiff had been homeless on and off since he was 15. Depressed, lonely and addicted to drugs and alcohol he attempted suicide several times. Now aged 50, he lives in a Housing First Salvation Army flat that provides long-term rough sleepers who have addictions or mental health problems a stable home alongside specialist support, so they don’t end up back on the streets. With the help of Housing First staff, Wayne has stopped using drugs and reconnected with his daughter after 20 years.

Wayne said: “I tried to kill myself any which way you can think of. When you are living on the streets, you can’t see a way out of any of it. You’re on your own in a sea of misery, and it’s pulling you down by the boots and you’ve got no chance.

“With Housing First that support is there as long as you need it. That’s changed the game for me. It stops you repeating the same patterns, going back out on the street, doing the same things.

“I know I have a lot more to achieve, but I have achieved things which are a first for me. I never felt I had those options before. I wanted help in the past it just wasn’t there, with Housing First it has been, which is why I have been able to turn it round. Now I have my daughter and my grandkids to think about, so I have had to make positive steps, with the support and help of Housing First, and look to the future.”

The Salvation Army’s report also recommends that in Wales:

  • That cities and regions with high levels of homelessness introduce the same recording system of the rough sleeping population as in London (CHAIN statistics), which provides detailed information on the number of homeless people in need of support for drugs, alcohol, and mental health problems.
  • Local authorities should produce statistics that show the level of homelessness funding both locally and nationally and how much they are spending on supporting different groups of homeless people so funding can be appropriately allocated to different services.

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