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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

How should we be tackling homelessness in Wales?

There is an interesting column by Mary O'Hara in today's Guardian on how President Obama is seeking to tackle homelessness in the United States.

Having had a few City holidays in the USA I have witnessed the phenomena she describes of 'people living visibly on the streets and in “tent cities”'. It is very disturbing and it is clear that at a state and City level Government in the States there has been a failure to get to grips with this issue.

Of course the USA does not have the safety nets that exist in the UK, but even here it is possible to go to some major Cities and see street homeless people in fairly large numbers. In other areas they exist but are not so evident.

The solutions to this problem are complex, especially when substance misuse and mental health issues are involved, but it is certainly possible to direct extra resources to deal with homelessness amongst families with children as well as others.

In America, President Obama has put in a request to Congress to raise over $10bn in the coming fiscal year budget specifically to help homeless families and children. His Homeless Assistance for Families proposal has been widely welcomed as another sign that homelessness is being taken seriously at a federal level.

Mary O'Hara writes: As with anything the president tables it depends on whether Congress agrees to all or a proportion of the funds (and there hasn’t exactly been a cordial relationship between the Obama White House and Congress), but if legislators do accept the proposal what follows could be life-changing for tens of thousands of destitute families. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the proposal could be transformational if enacted over the next few years using interventions such as community rehousing projects that have been proven to work locally “but never adequately funded”.

With more than 64,000 families, including 130,000 children, homeless on any given night in January 2015 in the US, the Alliance argues that the extra funding couldn’t come a moment too soon and is a major step towards Obama’s goals to eliminate child and family homelessness by 2020.

Nan Roman, the Alliance chief executive, says that the proposal would “give communities exactly what they need to end homelessness for families with children once and for all”. Coming from someone who has worked in the sector for decades and who knows that implementing real change is far from easy it’s a significant comment.

What is especially interesting about the president’s proposal, Roman points out, is that the funds will be designated as “mandatory”, meaning the federal government would be responsible for allocating the money and the funding wouldn’t be subject to the vagaries of annual budget renegotiations.

Here in Wales we also need an injection of capital to provide enough homes for families and other homeless persons. An Independent report says we need 12,000 new homes a year in Wales of which 5,200 should be affordable. As far as the latter category is concerned the Welsh Labour Government is building less than half that number each year.

That is why Welsh Liberal Democrats are proposing to build 20,000 new affordable homes in the next Assembly term. Such a proposal will step up the effort to end family homelessness in Wales. We also need to adequately fund support services for those who do not have a roof over their head because of their chaotic lives and complex personal problems, whilst ensuring that each local council makes suitable provision for emergency accommodation and day services for the street homeless.

This is an issue which we can no longer allow to fall down our agenda. Action is needed and it is needed now. We must ensure that the next Welsh Government takes that action.
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