Other Case Studies

Canada and England have also put in place initiatives to end or to reduce chronic homelessness. Toronto in Canada make excellent use of street outreach services and ‘Housing First’ and also have some very impressive harm minimisation programs.

England – Plan to reduce rough sleeping by two thirds

England is an interesting example because their strategy to address chronic homelessness has a longer history than those in Canada and the USA. In 1998 the Blair Government announced a new initiative ‘Coming in from the cold: The Government’s strategy on rough sleeping’. [1]

In the foreword to that document, the Prime Minister wrote:

 
On the eve of the 21st century, it is a scandal that there are still people sleeping rough on our streets. This is not a situation that we can continue to tolerate in a modern and civilised society. That is why, in a report last year by the Social Exclusion Unit, I set the tough but achievable target of reducing rough sleeping in England by at least two thirds by 2002.

Prime Minister, Tony Blair
 

England’s plan – 6 key principles

Whilst the British plan was not quite as ambitious as the plans to ‘end chronic homelessness’ in some North American cities, it was certainly ambitious. To reduce ‘rough sleeping’ by two thirds within a few years was a major objective. That plan cited six key principles. These were:

  1. Tackle the root causes of rough sleeping
    We need to understand what causes people to sleep rough, and prevent it from happening.

  1. Pursue approaches which help people off the streets, and reject those which sustain a street lifestyle
    Our aim is to reduce the numbers of rough sleepers, and to do everything in our power to persuade people to come in for help.

  1. Focus on those most in need
    We want this strategy to help those whom other initiatives have failed. There is not a bottomless pool of resources, and it is crucial therefore that we target our help on those who are least able to help themselves.

  1. Never give up on the most vulnerable
    It is inevitable that some rough sleepers, especially those who have been on the streets for many years, will have difficulty in coming back in. They will need specialist help and support if they are to succeed.

  1. Help rough sleepers to become active members of the community
    We need innovative and pragmatic approaches which build self-esteem, bring on talents, and help individuals to become ready for work and occupation away from the streets.

  1. Be realistic about what we can offer those who are capable of helping themselves [2]
    We should be using our resources to help the most vulnerable and not to provide a fast track into permanent housing for healthy and able individuals.

What happened in England?

In a progress report published in 2000 on the Government plan, it was reported that the goal of reducing rough sleeping by one tenth had been met by December 1999 [3]. By 2001 the goal of reducing it by two thirds had been met, a year ahead of schedule.

People who are homeless want housing

One of the biggest myths and widely held beliefs in the community is that people who are chronically homeless want to be and to stay that way. This myth appears to be widely held by the general community and sometimes also by some people who work in the homelessness and community services sectors.

However, if you ask chronically homeless people what they want, invariably and more commonly than not, they will tell you they want a permanent place to live. In fact, the Toronto Streets to Homes team reported that in their street ‘needs assessment’, undertaken in conjunction with their street count, this was the most frequently stated need (by almost 90% of people).

Footnotes: 

1. Coming in from the Cold, UK – Foreword by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair

2. Coming in from the Cold: The Government’s strategy on rough sleeping, 1998 UK

3. Coming in from the cold: A progress report (Summer 2000), UK