597 homeless people died in England and Wales in 2017, according to research just published by Kings College, London. The average age at death was 42 for women and 44 for men. Whilst most deaths occurred in hospital, some deaths were recorded on the street. One sadly notable example was in a corridor at Westminster underground station leading to Parliament. The overall figure included some living in bed and breakfast accommodation, placed there because of having no home. Of 1283 rough sleepers recorded in 2017, 27% were in London.
These are stark statistics as we feel the weather changing and churches begin to roll out plans for winter night shelters. Despite the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and the Rough Sleeping Strategy published in 2018, the number of rough sleepers has not declined, and Adult Safeguarding Services are under pressure to make sure that joined up plans are made to address individual cases especially where a safeguarding concern has been identified. The Kings College research also studied 14 publically available Safeguarding Adult Reviews relating to deaths or serious incidents, to identify key learning points to prevent more deaths in the future. The researchers found that the deaths were mainly due to physical abuse, neglect and self-neglect, but also found, interestingly, that financial abuse was a critical factor in 6 cases.
Good practice should be based on partnership working between the NHS, Adult Social Care, Housing Services and the Police and a recent workshop I attended organised by the Local Government Association had been convened to see how such arrangements could be improved. What became clear, however, was that churches, as key voluntary sector providers of night shelters, also have a role to play in local networks of support.
Providing night shelters for vulnerable adults with complex needs is therefore an important missional community safeguarding activity, and so we need to plan with care how we deliver these services so that they are safe in both physical and psychological senses. Being well-connected with the other support systems for this group is equally vital.
Some of our safeguarding casework may also involve direct work with homeless individuals with complex and challenging needs, and we may find ourselves shuttling between agencies who each own a ‘bit’ of the problem, but not the whole. Some areas have now developed more integrated ‘teams around the adult’ and even using the principles of family group conferences to solve seemingly intractable issues. If you are banging your head against the brick wall of officialdom, let your DSO know and we will see if we can help shape a more holistic local response. It can be done.