My time at the Homeless Link conference a couple of weeks ago was definitely well spent. I haven’t spent intensive time with colleagues exclusively from homelessness services for almost a decade and whilst it was familiar from earlier in my career, clearly a lot had changed. Sadly the need has grown and there are some diverse, innovative and exciting projects as well as funding models.
As ever, it’s possible that the passing of the cash cow that was Supporting People provides an opportunity to do things differently and arguably better.
But the language of prevention remains. As does my issue with this word. Whilst doing important work to provide a safe roof over the heads of some of society’s most vulnerable people, much of the time it’s just not prevention.
It’s amelioration. People have become homeless and that’s why they are accessing the services. And the services are so stretched, many are limited as to do what they can offer on top of fairly limited housing support. So these services are not preventing homelessness and often not preventing repeat homelessness either.
It’s not their fault. A lot of this is down to the systemic failure of the housing system, the cost of living, an absence of other support services and an economy that allows work that doesn’t pay.
Prevention and amelioration are different things and I think this distinction matters if we are to be clear about our objectives and desired outcomes.
Purely personally, I want to work in prevention. I want to prevent people from having to experience the indignity of the processes, personal pain and harm of becoming homeless.