Can new technology help local authorities to prevent homelessness?

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Olivia Iannelli | Senior Research Analyst

Date: 15 March 2018

Homelessness has become an escalating problem in the UK. According to Shelter 307,000 people are sleeping rough or accommodated in temporary housing across the UK and this number is set to rise.
Although staggering, these figures do not illustrate the larger problem, as they do not take into account “hidden homelessness” where people are staying with friends or families on their couches. The government first passed the homeless persons act in 1977. Despite this legislation being limited in its scope and protection measures, it has not been updated until now.
40 years later, the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) is set to come into force. This act will make significant changes to existing legislation, placing a lot more responsibility on Local Authorities to ensure a focus on early prevention.

New technology for homelessness prevention

Most notably, within the new legislation, the prevention duty once triggered will continue for 56 rather than 28 days. After this, the relief duty is an additional 56 days but will likely get extended. The new Act also requires councils to deliver services to everyone who is at risk of becoming homeless. This ensures that single people who were not necessarily considered “priority need” such as families with children and those who are vulnerable, under the old legislation, will be accounted for and protected. Additionally, a tailored assessment and housing plan will have to be undertaken to ensure everything is considered from necessary housing requirements for tackling the root causes of homelessness.

With little funding, Local Authorities must find innovative solutions to ensure the successful implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA).
Homelessness Link created the Street link App, a website, mobile app and phone line, which allows the general public to inform Local Authorities about rough sleepers they encounter in England and Wales.
Although several thousands of people have sent alerts this week, following freezing conditions in the country, this app does nothing to help prevent a person from becoming homeless.
Solutions to homelessness should aim to use technology to track patterns and predict homelessness and seek to prevent it, rather than applying band-aid solutions. This is precisely where Trilateral Research is able to support local authorities and other partners involved in preventing homelessness.

Local Authorities at present struggle with tracking all of the information which comes with homelessness and have significant data-management and organisational challenges. Often, they also lack the software infrastructure needed to handle the load of this data resulting in various data gaps. These challenges will only increase with the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation in May 2018.

Predictive models

There are misconceptions with regard to drivers of homelessness. Often practitioners in the field consider the reasons behind homelessness to be extremely subjective and complex. They believe that the experience of “homelessness is fairly randomly distributed across the population and that its causes are largely unfathomable, and that attempts at prediction and prevention are doomed to failure.” However, as combined here at Trilateral Research, technology in conjunction with social science research can be utilised to improve our understanding of the factors leading to homelessness and the existing links between these, through better gathering and analysis of data. Once this is achieved we can create predictive tools and models which will help prevent future homelessness. These may not cover everyone but by reaching a significant number early on we can focus on more complex cases with more ease.

Trilateral Research, does exactly this. Our team collaborates across social science and technology to bring insights from each to capture the benefits of data-driven innovation. In light of this, we are reaching out to work alongside Local Authorities in order to ensure data is being used correctly, in compliance with GDPR, as well as in an optimum fashion to guarantee the best solutions to prevent the occurrence of homelessness.

For more information on this research area please contact our team.

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