As the bank holiday weekend draws in, we all look forward to spending time with family and friends in our homes. But for people leaving prison, many are facing the prospect of having no home at all.
The day before a bank holiday weekend is a busy day for prisons. People will be released today with many trying to access essential services before they close. This creates a frantic race against the clock to access services, and for many this includes finding somewhere suitable to live. This Easter, those unable to get into accommodation before Good Friday may be left homeless.
Why does housing matter?
We know that two thirds of those who leave prison into homelessness will go on to reoffend, leaving them stuck in a cycle of cell, street, repeat. According to the Government, prison leavers without a stable home are 50% more likely to reoffend than those who have somewhere secure to live. So, for those released today and facing a long weekend of homelessness the risk of reoffending and recall to prison is far greater.
Having somewhere to live matters. It makes it much easier to access healthcare and other services. It helps build community links and makes it easier to get and keep a job. All of these are crucial for someone to be able to turn their life around and to reducing reoffending. Without it, the challenges can be huge.
We know there is a housing crisis in this country facing millions of us. We need more affordable housing in general. But we also need to increase access to longer-term suitable accommodation from the day people leave prison, whether that’s social housing, supported housing schemes, or in the private rented sector. We know from our experience that despite how hard our teams work to secure accommodation before release for people, there are times when there are simply no options available.
Government has introduced support schemes that can provide a stepping-stone for those who don’t have access to those options immediately and are at risk of homelessness. But it’s crucial we don’t simply delay homelessness by 12 weeks.
But there are other clear areas which need more focus to tackle this issue.
What can be done?
We need more supported housing options, which provide both the security of a home and access to support. This includes helping people build independent living skills, tackling substance misuse, or providing mental health help. Many people leaving prison need that extra support when first released. At present there’s simply not enough supported housing available which leads to people falling through the gaps.
And we need to open up access to the private rented sector. That means breaking down the stigma associated with people with criminal records and encouraging landlords to rent to them. And we need to ensure people leaving prison have vital access to rent deposit schemes and guarantors.
Making sure people leaving prison have somewhere safe and secure to live benefits us all. It’s good for the individual, for communities, and for society. With reoffending costing the UK £18bn a year, it also makes financial sense. It’s time to end the cycle of cell street repeat.