Will Grenfell change attitudes towards rehousing homeless families?

One of the lessons for government that may emerge from the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower is a better understanding and appreciation of the pressures on those families that find themselves homeless.

grenfell tower

They may also reflect on the complex challenges local authorities face on a day to day basis in supporting those families and securing accommodation for those to whom councils have a statutory duty to secure settled accommodation.

Following the fire, ministers put in place a Task Force to support Kensington & Chelsea Council in the recovery process and gave commitments to rehouse those residents made homeless by the fire as quickly as possible.

This “hands on” approach will undoubtedly provide valuable learning experience for government ministers and government officials.

But will it lead to a change in attitude to the many thousands of other homeless households living in temporary accommodation across the country and a concerted effort to secure early rehousing for those families?

It is right and proper those made homeless as a result of the fire at Grenfell Tower should receive the very highest priority for rehousing to permanent social housing.

Government have made a commitment to rehousing residents affected by the fire into settled accommodation within twelve months.

This commitment includes assurances that residents who have been made homeless will only move to settled accommodation if they are happy with the offer and will not be penalised in any way if they do not accept.

However, it remains to be seen whether the commitment to rehouse residents within a year can be delivered and according to the latest media reports, some two months after the fire at Grenfell Tower, up to 200 residents affected by the fire had not secured permanent accommodation.

Whilst all of those forced to leave their homes have since been offered temporary accommodation, at that stage only some 23 families had been permanently rehoused while 22 others had accepted offers of accommodation.

Homelessness is a hugely traumatic event for any family, whatever the cause, but particularly so where it is a consequence of a disaster on such an unprecedented scale.

It is vital those who have been made homeless as a result of the fire are fully supported in their choice of settled accommodation.

The sad fact is that, in the first three months of 2017, across the country, 14,600 households were accepted as being unintentionally homeless and in priority need.

At 31 March 2017 there were already 77,240 homeless households in England living in temporary accommodation, including 120,540 children or expected children.

More than a quarter of these households were placed in temporary accommodation in another local authority district and of those leaving temporary accommodation in the period between 1 January and 31 March 2017, only 74% did so less than a year after acceptance and in London only 43% did so.

As the government are no doubt discovering in their efforts to secure settled accommodation for the homeless residents of Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk, the shortage of social housing and secure affordable rented accommodation is a major factor in rehousing homeless families.

It will therefore come as no surprise to those involved in rehousing homeless families across the country that, despite the commitments given to residents affected by the fire, it has not yet been possible to secure permanent accommodation for more than a small number of the families affected by the disaster.

Let’s hope the government’s commitment to rehouse those made homeless by the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower within the period of one year can be delivered.

Let’s also hope their hands on experience in delivering on this promise will lead in future to a similar commitment to the many thousands of other homeless households who have been accepted as unintentionally homeless and in priority need and who are currently living in temporary accommodation across the country.

To achieve this, there must be a genuine commitment to increase the supply of social rented housing to meet this need.

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