17 September 2019

Shelter estimates that around 300,000 people are in temporary accommodation and 5,000 people are rough sleeping. Despite everything that is being done by Government, by local authorities, by homelessness charities and by housing associations, these figures are not reducing – indeed many believe that the rough sleeping figures are an underestimate.

Many housing associations were formed 50 years or so ago in response to the showing of Ken Loach’s drama-documentary ‘Cathy Come Home’ on BBC TV. But despite building hundreds of thousands of homes since then and providing hundreds of supported housing projects for homeless people, the homelessness crisis continues.

Housing associations play a major role in housing homeless people and supporting them to sustain their tenancies and move into training and employment. But could they do more to reduce the numbers of people sleeping rough or living in temporary accommodation in the face of this housing crisis?

Last year, the Homes for Cathy group of 85 housing associations worked with the homelessness charity Crisis to develop nine housing association Commitments.

These Commitments represent a challenge to housing associations to review their practices both to establish whether there is more they can do to house or support homeless people and also to consider whether they are putting barriers in the way of homeless people accessing their housing and services.

The nine Homes for Cathy Commitments are a benchmark for housing associations to measure themselves against or, in other words, a means of auditing a housing association’s social impact in this area.

Eighteen months on from the launch of the Commitments with the Crisis ‘Plan to End Homelessness’, many Homes for Cathy members have gone some distance down the road of measuring themselves against the nine Commitments.

What we have found is that housing association Board members are particularly interested in the Homes for Cathy Commitments. They act as the ‘trustees’ or ‘guardians’ of a housing association’s social purpose, its vision and its values, which often endure over many years and decades.

The nine Commitments are stretching and some will be, initially, aspirational for some housing associations. They may well require some reallocation of resources to achieve.

But our sector has resources and, surely, it is central to our social purpose that we should be housing and supporting those without a permanent home.

So my challenge to all housing association Chief Executives and Boards is to measure your organisation against the nine Homes for Cathy Commitments and see how you shape up. See the exercise as a dry run for a kind of social impact credit rating. There is no need to publish the results.

Our sector already makes a huge contribution to housing and supporting homeless people but could we do more?

David Bogle

David is Chief Executive of Hightown Housing Association

David Bogle is Chief Executive of Hightown housing association which operates in Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire. Hightown owns almost 6,500 properties and employs over 950 staff - mainly in 85 care homes and supported living projects where Hightown provides housing and support to vulnerable and disabled people.

David was a founder member of the ‘Homes for Cathy’ group of 84 housing associations which works with Crisis and others to encourage housing associations to do more to tackle homelessness and lobbies for more resources for housing and support for homeless people.

Homelessness – what more could housing associations do?