By Bob Eldridge, Chairman, The People's Kitchen

Homelessness as a human cost:

The unique stress of lacking a settled home can cause or intensify social isolation, create barriers to education, training and paid work, under-mining mental and physical health.  When single homelessness becomes prolonged, or is repeatedly experienced, there are often very marked deterioration's in health and well-being.

(Crisis’s) recent research estimates that numbers of rough sleepers have continued to grow and have risen 37% nationally from the numbers in 2010. (Skewed heavily by the shortage of accommodation in London.)  Allowing homelessness to persist for twelve months costs the public sector £12,000 per annum and, if not resolved quickly, can rise to £20,000 p.a.   Resolving homelessness quickly with interventions costs substantially less.

In Newcastle, homelessness is a product of poverty and vulnerability rather than a housing shortage.  Newcastle City Council has a preventative intervention programme, but it would appear that many Charities duplicate the services that are offered to vulnerable people.

The People’s Kitchen users travel along a journey which commences with early support (hot meals, showers etc.), moving towards forging friendships to build trust and a consistent rapport.  This enables signposting towards healthcare and accommodation providers, finally moving users towards independent living.  Throughout this journey, engagement aims to promote confidence and self- esteem which can only be achieved by close collaboration with other Charities and professional agencies.

Many Charities in the region appear to be pitching for funds to provide services targeted towards those in need, but there is no over-arching journey or joined-up thinking.  Hence, vulnerable people have to deal with different providers throughout the weekly calendar.

The majority of the homeless are of male gender, British white and of working age, mainly originating from the North East, with over one third who have criminal records and one fifth who were in local authority care as children.  Thirty per cent have experienced rough sleeping over the last three months and nearly fifty per cent are suffering from a combination of poor mental and physical health, resulting in emotional ill-being, combined with substance abuse.  More than 50 per cent of these individuals have no friends or family who could provide them with accommodation or the financial or emotional support that they require.

There appears to be a fragmented and over-complicated approach with, basically “too many players” trying to address the problems of those coping with poverty. The homeless are most vulnerable at weekends and evenings when most agencies (except The People’s Kitchen) are inaccessible.

To conclude, it would appear that Newcastle’s track record is substantially better than that of many cities across the UK, but more could be done to target hard earned funds towards the most needed areas, delivered by those who are most skilled and equipped.