Homeless households 2011-15
For definitions and background information see:

Newcastle – contrasting figures

The quarterly figures on homeless households for Newcastle 2011-15 (graph above) suggest an overall pattern with a significant fall in 2013 and from mid-2014 following a blip in 2014 when the numbers reverted to previously higher levels.  Note that those deemed to be in ‘priority need’ only accounted for a proportion of those households who were homeless and by far the greater majority didn’t fall in to one of the priority categories. According to the housing charity Shelter, in the twelve months from October 2012 to September 2013, there were 1,869 mortgage and landlord possession claims in Newcastle (that’s one household in every 63 at risk of losing their home).  Far from all claims translate into homeless households.   Newcastle only ranked 23 out of 325 areas nationally for possession claims with the top 16 areas all in London (ranging from one in 35 to one in 59).

Those in priority need are ‘accepted’ as homeless by their local authority under the 1996 Housing Act.  A study undertaken into Newcastle by a group of university researchers published in September 2013 found that while the number of homeless ‘acceptances’ rose in England from  40,020 in 2009-10 to 53,325 in 2012-13, in Newcastle they fell slowly from 233 to 220.   This pattern was out of step with other core cities where the numbers had risen.  This could be attributed to Newcastle’s culture of cooperative prevention (see below).

Newcastle has been chosen as one of the Government’s Homelessness Prevention Trailblazer areas are to develop innovative approaches to prevent homelessness (HM Govt Homelessness Prevention Programme Oct 17th 2016).  Newcastle council  aim to set up  a Homelessness Prevention Board to link up services including housing and health, so people at risk of losing their home can get advice and help with debt and employment.

Joyce McCarty, the deputy leader of Newcastle City Council, said: “Newcastle has a good record of preventing homelessness and we are pleased that this work has been recognised by Government.  We look forward to building on our work and making the prevention of homelessness the norm and supporting someone at crisis point the exception.” Newcastle Chronicle Oct 17th 2016

Who is homeless in Newcastle?

This can be difficult to pin down.  The definition below from one expert in the field may reflect those who come into contact with the People’s Kitchen but exclude the less visible ‘hidden homeless’ staying in temporary or unsuitable accommodation, such as those ‘sofa surfing’ with friends, and who don’t seek charitable help.

“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.”   Bob Eldridge, chairman, The People’s Kitchen (June 2016)

Newcastle’s approach to homelessness

Prior to the scheme announced in October 2016 Newcastle had already adopted a culture of prevention and continues to be committed to partnership working.  The council run a housing advice centre where staff offer free confidential advice with the aim of helping people to keep their home or assisting them to find one which meets their needs.  The overall housing shortage may not be as acute in Newcastle as other places, but there is a shortage of social housing (local authority or housing association), so the council try to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. If this is not possible, the advice centre staff try to find a solution to make sure people have a safe place to stay.

Helping people at risk of eviction or repossession to keep their home takes different forms.  Council tenants in rent arrears can set up a realistic repayment plan by talking to a housing officer and may be referred to a support worker.  People can also get advice about debt and mortgages. The Newcastle City Council Money Matters team and the Citizens Advice Bureau have worked together to provide a debt advice helpline.

The advice centre provides those experiencing violence or abuse with emergency accommodation.  They work with the Police Domestic Violence Liaison Team and a number of voluntary agencies including Women’s Aid.  A case study on the Newcastle Women’s Aid website illustrates how agencies worked together to help Mary and Sammy escape abuse and in time establish a safe and permanent home.

The city council is committed to ending rough sleeping and takes a proactive approach to supporting rough sleepers off Newcastle’s streets.  Anyone who sees a rough sleeper can report this to the council by email or call the rough sleeping helpline so that help and assistance can be offered.  There have been other associated initiatives such as Housing First, run by the charity Changing Lives, which employs people who have experienced rough sleeping themselves.

The cooperative approach taken by Newcastle does mean it compares favourably with other English cities.  The September 2013 evaluation by university researchers suggests homelessness relieved through positive action is at a comparatively high rate in Newcastle (29.6 preventions per 1,000 households – three times the rate of England as a whole).  Behind Newcastle’s approach is a commitment to understanding the reasons for homelessness and using this understanding to inform what they do.

However Newcastle’s funding gap, the reduction in net revenue budget from one year to the next, was set to average 5.6 per cent over the five year period 2011/12 to 2015/16 according to a Joseph Rowntree report.  At the same time as vulnerability to homelessness was rising due to household financial stress, Newcastle council had to make difficult spending decisions and cut costs including reducing its staff by about a third.  As one employee put it to researchers:

 “We’ve lost a lot of personal contact, because obviously people have left and changed, so those one-to-one relationships that you had with people have been changed or fractured…and people are busier because they’ve lost staff so it’s harder to maintain those relationships. And I think a lot of the work that we did was down to those relationships.” Evaluation of Newcastle’s Cooperative Approach (September 2013) p24.

Perhaps this provides part of the explanation for the rise in Newcastle’s homeless households in 2014 (graph above).

This inevitably shifts some of the burden to other agencies and charities and puts pressure on communities to provide their own self-help solutions.  There are many charities at work seeking to help those in poverty and who are vulnerable.

“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.  … 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.” Bob Eldridge, chairman, The People’s Kitchen (June 2016)

It is to be seen whether the Government’s homelessness prevention funding can help to create a more joined-up response.

Last updated Dec 4th 2016 (minor edit 23rd Dec 2016).