Luke Stanley is a policy adviser to Lord Hague of Richmond and a senior parliamentary researcher to Anthony Mangnall, MP. Write in a personal capacity.
“How did this person end up sleeping on the street?” it’s a question most of us will have asked ourselves at some point in our lives, going past the homeless people who sleep to sleep. While it seems like a simple question, the underlying factors that make someone sleep hard are all but less.
Boris Johnson’s Conservative One Nation government is making encouraging progress in supporting people who sleep hard to rebuild their lives, with a street count three years in a row.
Its flagship Rough Sleeping Initiative, which funds accommodation and health services for people with difficulty sleeping, has been Found to reduce hard sleep by a third and received a £ 200 million boost earlier this month.
But if we want to finally end the hard sleep, we must do more than support the existing journeys. We must also prevent vulnerable people from ever reaching the streets.
Write for this website last year, Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, rightly described sleeping hard as “a health problem as a housing problem.” As with most health problems, conditions that can cause hard sleep are much easier to treat, but much harder to detect in their early stages.
To intensify early interventions to prevent a hard sleep will require a forensic understanding of the long-term process by which a vulnerable person ends up on the street, a deep knowledge that our society currently lacks.
Existing research suggests that there are two major groups of factors that can contribute to hard sleep.
First, there are structural problems in our society, such as affordable housing levels and insecure leases. Second, there are individual problems that make some people more likely to end up on the street, such as poor mental health, addiction, and broken relationships.
They often feed off each other, for example, untreated mental health issues that fuel addiction, causing vicious cycles that leave people with broken lives, unable to maintain a home.
To try to understand this issue more deeply, the May government commissioned a rapid evaluation of evidence on the causes of homelessness and hard sleep. That he agreed that both structural and individual problems were factors, but that the latter played a more important role in explaining hard sleep than in other forms of homelessness.
Apart from this general conclusion, the report highlighted several shortcomings in the evidence base.
First, there is a lack of solid data on the immediate causes of hard sleep. The report noted that much of third-party research in this area uses simplistic surveys that have had limited use for informed policy-making. For example, one of these polls had “Requested exit or eviction” as the main reason for sleeping hard, but did not look for information about the context behind it. A greedy landlord increased the rent; someone with mental health problems could not keep a job; a gay person was rejected by his fanatical family. Three incredibly different scenarios, each of which would be captured equally by this survey.
Second, and more crucially, there is a lack of evidence on the long-term causes of hard sleep. As discussed above, many of the individual problems related to hard sleep are exacerbated by each other. Understanding this process is critical to improving early interventions and preventing people from becoming hard-sleeping people.
Ultimately, we can build as many houses as we want and introduce as many restrictions on homeowners as we want, but until we unravel the causes of the chaotic lifestyles that drive vulnerable people on the streets, we will never end up sleeping hard.
This can be achieved through more qualitative studies of “pathways”, which try to map the journeys of individuals to a hard sleep. As noted in the report, track studies are especially important for designing preventive policies, but many use small samples, limiting their usefulness. In his words, more route studies, with larger samples, would help us “understand even more the interactions between the causes and the order of events that can lead to homelessness.”
Third, we need a better understanding of sleep risks approximately for different demographics. The factors behind hard sleep are complex and affect different people in different ways, making one-size-fits-all approaches unhelpful. To its credit, the Government is already conducting research to better understand the causes of sleep deprivation for a specific demographic population: gay and trans people.
But going further, the Government could also consider commissioning research to gather solid evidence to fill the first and second gaps on the causes, both in the short and long term, of hard sleep. With its “Everyone There” campaign milestone, which houses more than 26,000 raw sleepers and homeless people at risk of raw sleep, there is a golden opportunity to explore the causes of raw sleep. For the first time, we have a large number of people with live experience of sleeping in safe accommodation, where they are much more accessible to researchers.
We should take this opportunity to better understand how to help vulnerable people, use it to develop stronger preventive interventions, and limit hard sleep in history books.
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