By Martin Collett, Chief Executive, English Rural
For me, the ambition and motivation to build more affordable rural homes and tackle homelessness in the countryside has always been a highly personal one. Each of us choose a path in life, informed by the influences, opportunities and experiences that shape us as we grow. I know I am not alone in our sector when I say this, which is why I take pride in the shared values and purpose that bonds housing associations of all varieties together. Our sum greater than our parts.
As a young boy growing up in a hardworking, low-income family, I can still recall the trauma felt when my parents received notice to quit their tenanted farm. Overnight they lost their livelihoods, home, and their place in the world. Faced with no income, nowhere to live, and no access to the support and advice they needed. As a family unit we were lucky enough to be able to rely on the kindness of relatives and friend networks, which secured much-needed time to take a new direction. The reality could have been hugely different and for many households and individuals it is.
These formative memories still cut deeply and that is why launching the ‘Rural Homelessness Counts Coalition‘ during Rural Housing Week 2023 is so rewarding. The Coalition is a pioneering initiative that seeks to end the often-hidden crisis of rural homelessness in England. It is a significant milestone in our collective journey towards addressing homelessness in all forms across our society. The launch of the Coalition represents the coming together of a broad community, who between them, share the same aims and values.
The work of the Coalition takes forward the ground-breaking research conducted by the Universities of Kent and Southampton. This collaborative research project, supported by housing associations, homelessness charities and national rural bodies, exposed a critical and immediate need for locally informed, adequately funded policy interventions to address the escalating problem of rural homelessness.
The research unveiled startling findings: official government rough sleeping numbers have risen by 24% in one year, and 91% of rural respondents have witnessed a rise in homelessness over the past five years. Furthermore, the research found a 65% funding gap between per capita spending on the homelessness prevention grant in rural areas compared to urban areas. These findings underscore the severity of the issue and the urgent need for action.
The ‘Rural Homelessness Counts Coalition’ is the collective response to these challenges. Its mission is to:
– Raise awareness of rural homelessness
– Develop and advocate for effective strategies
– Encourage the adoption of evidence-based best practices in rural communities
The Coalition will combine the collective forces of housing associations, local authorities, homelessness charities, and other stakeholders to address the unique challenges of rural homelessness. Its impact will come from the united strength of the partners involved, who support a common mission. By working together, the Coalition intends to create a resonating change that will echo throughout our rural communities and beyond.
We invite you to join us in this mission, to lend your voice and your support to our cause. Together, we can ensure that #RuralHomelessnessCounts and that everyone, no matter where they live, has access to a secure, affordable home.