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Housing

‘Substantial efforts’ needed to improve knowledge of homelessness, landmark UN report says

The United Nations secretary-general has presented a report on homelessness to the General Assembly for the first time. Expert Dame Louise Casey hopes the move will create an “international league table” to further efforts to end homelessness for good

The United Nations secretary-general will present a landmark report on homelessness to the UN General Assembly in a move described as a “big moment” in tackling the issue across the globe.

Secretary-general António Guterres’ report recommends a global target is set to end homelessness aligned with the UN’s sustainable development goals. He also called for the issue to be discussed at future General Assemblies with reports to share strategies, best practices and policies between countries to prevent and address the issue.

Baroness Louise Casey, a former homelessness tsar under the new Labour government, who also led the Everyone In campaign to protect rough sleepers during the pandemic, said it was a “brilliant day”.

“It’s a pretty big moment,” Institute of Global Homelessness chair Baroness Casey told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Since I left the civil service I have been quietly, alongside many other people, trying to get the UN secretary-general and all of its processes to essentially put homelessness on the map.

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“What’s fantastic about today is that the secretary-general has adopted that there is a problem and, as this report shows, we can do something about it.”

The report at the 78th General Assembly found “substantial efforts” are needed to improve the knowledge of homelessness and the policies to tackle it.

People experiencing homelessness are currently completely absent from all 17 Sustainable Development Goals – the UN’s global objectives which serve as a blueprint for a better future – and their 169 associated indicators.

The secretary-general also called for greater efforts to understand the scale of the issue through counts and data and urged member states to recognise homelessness as a priority when developing social security systems.

Countries should also “invest in ambitious housing policies” to ensure adequate and affordable housing is available for all and create a national strategy to prevent and address all kinds of homelessness.

Lydia Stazen, chair of the NGO Working Group to End Homelessness, said “efforts to date have not been sufficient to end or reduce homelessness, a growing problem globally”.

“The evidence shows that homelessness can be ended, but taking comprehensive policies and programs to scale in order to succeed will require a coordinated, resourced approach at local, national, and global levels,” added Stazen.

“The United Nations and member states play a critical role in scaling effective solutions. The challenges of the pandemic and climate change are increasing pressure on housing around the world. It is time to act boldly and quickly to bring isolated local and national successes to global action.”

The secretary-general’s report is seen as an important move in comparing and contrasting approaches to tackling homelessness between countries.

Baroness Casey said she hopes the move is a first step in creating an “international league table” to see how different states fare.

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The report comes just days after the Kerslake Commission, an expert panel set up to scrutinise how rough sleeping is being addressed, gave a damning indictment of the Westminster government’s progress in tackling street homelessness.

The panel said the Tory government was on track to break its 2019 manifesto pledge to eradicate rough sleeping by the end of next year.

Baroness Casey agreed that the Tories were set to fail and said she was “shocked” when she went back into government to lead the Everyone In scheme at the number of closed hostels and services and the lack of a prevention strategy.

She added: “I think the missed opportunity of that whole six months was that the government, in my view, were not committed to making sure everyone stayed in and I think we missed an opportunity there. But it does give me hope that we can do something about it.”

“There isn’t really a plan. They’ve got a commitment to reduce street homelessness, they’re not going to meet that manifesto commitment.” 

“The UN thing is giving hope. Obviously I’m quite critical of our domestic policy on homelessness but, within that, there are people like the Prince of Wales, who are trying to do it.”

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Prince William’s Homewards programme, which was launched in June, is looking to develop the tools to end homelessness over the next five years through local projects around the UK.

The Royal Foundation said it “welcomed and supported” the UN’s “global frame on the issue of homelessness”.

We’re calling on the prime minister to make sure everyone can afford to stay in their homes and pay for the essentials by:

  • Unfreezing Local Housing Allowance rates
  • Increasing Universal Credit to £120 a week for a single adult and £200 for a couple.

Will you add your voice to our call and sign the petition?

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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