Policy and service responses to rough sleeping among older people

Rough sleeping in Britain has a long history, and interventions have alternated between legal sanctions and humanitarian concern. This paper critically examines recent changes in homeless policies and services, with particular reference to the needs of older people who sleep rough. The characteristics and problems of the group are first described. Single homeless people were formerly accommodated in direct-access hostels but, from the 1970s, individualised rehabilitation and resettlement have spread. Most recently, services dedicated to older people have begun (although remain few and are unevenly provided). Their achievements are reviewed and drawn upon in formulating normative proposals of the appropriate service mix. The 1990s ‘Rough Sleepers Initiative’ and related programmes promoted a ‘social care market’ of not-for-profit organisations that compete for increased (but short-term) funds to provide services, and the new Labour government will build upon these changes and increase funds. Low tolerance towards the ‘social exclusion’ of homelessness is promised but unerringly constructed as exclusion from work; while rough sleeping is dubbed as anti-social, coercive approaches to achieve a two-thirds reduction are foreseen. The proposed target might stall the development of diverse and effective services, or reduce providers' capacity to combat the perversities of resource allocation. The overall prospects for the improvement and expansion of services to provide significant help to single older homeless people are uncertain.
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