How can we respond to the challenges of homelessness?

A recent conference at London Met explored the causes and consequences of homelessness, and how it has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Date: 13 April 2021

London Met recently held its second annual homelessness conference, which explored different aspects of the continuing challenge of addressing homelessness, which has only made worse by the Covid-19 crisis. 

The audience heard from a range of expert speakers at the conference, which was co-organised by London Met’s Patrick Mulrenan, Isabel Patrick, Stavroula Konidari and Jane Lewis. The panel comprised of: Faye Greaves, Head of Policy and Practice at the Centre for Homelessness Impact; Councillor Louise Mitchell, Cabinet Member for Housing and Homelessness Prevention, London Borough of Waltham Forest; Dom Gates, Director of Services, Providence Row; and Meg Rainey, Senior Social Worker, London Borough of Tower Hamlets. 

Just as Covid-19 laid bare the stark differences in health outcomes in the UK, there is clear evidence of unequal outcomes relating to housing and homelessness. As Patrick Mulrenan notes in a report on the conference’s discussion, "fear of homelessness is increasing, and 2.5 million people have immediate concerns about housing costs. But the truth is that homelessness affects particular people, places, and communities.

"Like COVID-19, homelessness is a consequence of both poverty and inequality. Despite London’s wealth, the homelessness rate is 16.7 per 1000 households, compared to 1.8 per 1000 in the rest of the country. The highest rate in London is in Newham, one of the poorest boroughs, where 1 in 23 people are homeless. But the third highest rate (1 in 29 people) is in Kensington and Chelsea, the richest borough in the country.

"The causes of homelessness have changed during COVID-19. The government has introduced a temporary ban on evictions, meaning that fewer households are approaching councils as homeless following the termination of their tenancy, particularly from the private rented sector (this was previously the largest single cause of the recent growth of homelessness). But other causes have increased. For example, homelessness due to ‘friends and family being unable to continue to accommodate’ has increased and is now the major cause of homelessness acceptances by councils.

"In a time of social distancing, people cannot allow friends and family to continue to stay with them. The numbers of homeless acceptances due to domestic violence and to the non-violent breakdown of relationships has also increased, again in part a consequence of COVID-19 lockdowns.

"But it is important to learn from success too. The ‘Everyone In’ initiative has provided accommodation for street homeless people, preventing 20,000 infections. Like the vaccine roll-out, it has demonstrated that the country can really be ‘world beating’ if national government, local government, and the voluntary sector work in partnership. The success of the ‘Everyone In’ initiative shows that with the right resources and political will, we really can address problems that seemed intractable a year ago. 

The conference involved learning from failure but celebrating success too. We really can solve homelessness."

London Met’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Lynn Dobbs, added: "The conference addressed many different aspects of homelessness including the need for prevention policies, the local government response, the critical role of the voluntary sector and the importance of partnership working.

"Everyone needs a safe, affordable home. Providing these homes will benefit individuals, their families, and the wider communities they live in. At London Metropolitan University, we are committed to social justice and we hope to show that, with political will, we can both defeat Covid-19 and defeat homelessness."


silhouette of man with backpack