Minister’s homelessness definition not enough.

On World Homeless Day, the Jersey Homelessness Strategic Board welcomes the small but important step taken by Minister for Housing and Communities, Deputy David Warr in publishing a formal definition of homelessness. But there is still so much more to be done.

“Defining homelessness is an important step but we need to see it enshrined in statute”, says Simon Burgess, the Independent Chair of the Jersey Homelessness Strategic Board.

The Minister says he plans to place the definition in legislation but does not say what timeframe he will work to and whether this will happen within the current electoral cycle. This risks it not happening and the homeless definition being changed at the whim of successor Housing Ministers.

“Credit where credit is due though” Simon Burgess added, “the Minister has taken positive action by bringing forward the definition whilst also undertaking to ensure we know how many people fall into which sub-definition at any one time. We are in for a big surprise when we discover the true nature of homelessness in Jersey”.

The need for a definition was raised by the Homelessness Cluster group when it first met in December 2018 and the need to define and measure homelessness in the Island is the first recommendation of the Homelessness Strategy published by the Strategic Board in November 2020. There have been four housing ministers in this time and none of the previous three took this step.

“The Minister’s definition is a big step forward but so much more needs to be done,” said Patrick Lynch, CEO of Caritas, and member of the Strategic Board.

“The Homelessness Strategy sets out 8 strategic priorities and more than 30 specific recommendations” he added, “in 2021 the Housing Minister at that time accepted most of the recommendations as actions for the Government in his ministerial response so we will continue to ask for updates of progress on each of the actions”.

Homelessness is the acute end of the housing crisis. As the cost of living rises the most vulnerable are more likely to be adversely impacted first with a likely increase or rent arrears and missed mortgage payments which increases risk of evictions and repossessions. Physical and mental health considerations make things even harder, and this needs a joined-up approach from multiple agencies and government departments. The impact is even greater when children are involved. In a wealthy island with extensive resources this should not happen – everyone needs a home.