Unveiling Solutions: Tackling Rural Rough Sleeping at the Local Level

In our mission to tackle rural homelessness, a frequently overshadowed issue, last year’s publication of groundbreaking research by the Universities of Kent and Southampton marked a significant turning point. This study uncovered the complexities of rural homelessness, paving the way for an in-depth exploration of practical solutions.

Since this research’s release, our focus has shifted from simply understanding the issue to actively seeking solutions to end rural homelessness for good. In collaboration with the Local Government Association (LGA) and local authorities throughout England, we’ve embarked on a journey to unearth what works in combating rural rough sleeping. This exploration has uncovered a variety of challenges and innovative approaches in rural settings to eradicate rough sleeping once and for all.

The fruit of this collaboration is a concise 🔗 report, emerging from a series of workshops with local authorities. This report offers innovative ideas and practical recommendations for change at the local level, such as:

1. Investing in a Flexible, Expansive Model of Rough Sleeping Outreach:

✅ Building a network of community referrers in rural areas, to address the challenge of limited outreach capacity and foster partnerships.
✅ Implementing technology, like geocoding systems, to better identify and address needs in remote locations.

2. Enhancing Data to Evidence Need and Foster Multi-Agency Support:

✅ Implementing more frequent data collection, including at points of identification, not just verification.
✅ Capturing hidden forms of need in rural areas by uniting a broader range of partners over a longer period, inspired by the approach of the Women’s Rough Sleeping Census.

3. Implementing Effective Governance to Prioritise Rural Homelessness:

✅ Rural-proofing all homelessness and rough sleeping strategies, with proactive consultation of rural stakeholders.
✅ Collaborating with health sectors through data sharing and joint commissioning to provide integrated support in rural areas.
✅ Raising local awareness to combat stigma and enhance understanding of available support in rural settings.

We are launching this important work at a joint webinar with the LGA, featuring speakers from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), and the councils of Herefordshire and Lincolnshire, key contributors to this project.

This guide, primarily aimed at local authorities, also offers valuable insights for policymakers, community organisations, and engaged citizens. We envision this guide as the beginning of an expanding collaboration across rural communities in the country.

Cllr Darren Rodwell, Housing spokesperson for the LGA said:

“We know that rough sleeping and broader homelessness pressures are increasing nationally, due to the rising cost-of-living, housing insecurity and reductions in social and other affordable homes.

Rural areas, while not homogenous, do share similar challenges that make them distinct, such as dispersed support services, geographic challenges and perceived stigma around accessing support in rural areas. This has often had the effect of masking the issues of rural rough sleeping and broader homelessness.

The LGA has, therefore, been incredibly happy to work jointly on this report with the ‘Rural Homelessness Counts’ coalition to identify current and emerging good practice in reducing rural rough sleeping. We look forward to continuing further work to identify and scale up effective interventions.”

Rory Weal, Chair, Rural Homelessness Counts coalition, said:

“Rough sleeping and homelessness in rural England is on the rise, meaning too many people face the injustice and danger of having no place to call home. Despite the prevailing image of homelessness as occurring in cities, we know that homelessness can occur anywhere. Homelessness in the countryside may be less visible, but as the people experiencing it tell us – that does not mean it is not there.

We know that the causes of homelessness in rural areas are similar to those in urban areas, but are impacted by isolation, the absence of support services and limited transportation options. This has serious consequences. Rural homelessness is a health emergency. We must all play our part so that everyone in rural England can have a safe and secure roof over their head.

We have been delighted to work with the LGA to develop this report and hope it is just the start of a journey to greater recognition of what works and what could work to end rural rough sleeping.”

Together, we can reverse the trend of rural homelessness and create communities where everyone has a place to call home.

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