How can housing associations help stop rising figures of BME homelessness?

Mushtaq Khan, 31 October 2019

Earlier this year, BME National launched a mission statement, and made tackling homelessness in BME communities a key focus.

We understand that BME communities are far too over-represented in homelessness statistics and our mission statement is a series of asks to Government to try to reverse this.

The Manchester Evening News has reported that the city’s homelessness crisis is ‘so bad that we’re running out of emergency accommodation’. They described the poor quality of much of the emergency (or temporary) accommodation and said that it is unsuitable for families.

The newspaper looked beyond the traditional newspaper narrative, which often views homelessness as something that we see on the streets or in town centres in the form of rough sleeping, and is seen as mostly white and male.

The unseen side of the homelessness crisis is the impact that it has on the lives of black and minority ethnic (BME) households, which are mostly family groups. Official figures show that, in 2017/18, 32% of households accepted as homeless were from a BME background – this is double what you would expect based on population projections – and that BME homelessness is on the rise.

We know, however, that this is not even the full picture, as official figures under-represent homelessness in BME communities. Hidden homelessness, meaning people who do not show up in official figures, has significant elements of BME representation.

So why are BME communities over-represented in homelessness statistics?

I think the reasons are multiple. Socioeconomic status (and associated poverty and employment patterns), some racism and discrimination in the lettings market, a punitive benefits system for families, and the overall lack of investment in housing regeneration and new build, especially in the inner cities, have all played a part. A decade of under-investment in public services of course hasn’t helped.

It is a complex challenge, but BME National – a collective of BME housing associations in England – are determined to rise to it. Earlier this year, we launched our mission statement, and made tackling homelessness in BME communities a key focus.

We think that BME housing associations are a crucial part of any solution to the homelessness crisis, because:

  • We are close to our communities, and understand the reasons behind both the official statistics and unofficial social economies.
  • We are in a position to act as a voice and represent our local areas. We know that the best solutions to homelessness involve community approaches – something we are in a unique position to broker.
  • We are also partners who understand social returns on investment, and know that a collaborative approach to preventing and dealing with homelessness makes both social and financial sense.

Our mission statement clearly states our ambition to ensure that people from BME backgrounds can access and sustain housing, but it also states what government and other partners can do to support this ambition.

Find out more – read the BME National mission statement.