Are mainstream services doing enough to address BME homelessness?

Mainstream homelessness organisations need to be more proactive in reaching homeless people from BME communities argues Tracey Bignall from the Race Equality Foundation

When the Government set out to reform the welfare system and cap benefits, the effect to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups doesn’t seem to have been fully considered.

Tracey Bignall, Race Equality Foundation

Recent defeats to the Welfare Reform Bill are welcomed. But families, including many from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities, will face homelessness because changes to housing benefit and welfare will force them to move. This is a real concern.

BME communities more likely to be homeless

We know that housing benefit is paid to people on low income. BME communities are amongst those with the lowest incomes, often living in poor housing and with high unemployment rates. These communities tend to have households with more children, particularly the Bangladeshi, Pakistani and African families and restriction on the amount of housing benefit paid to large bedroom homes are likely to have a negative impact.

If people are forced to flee areas with higher rents, as seems likely, homelessness will become a real issue for those that least expect it.  We know that BME communities are more likely to become homeless. As important is the scale of ‘hidden homelessness’ as a result of overcrowding which is already high.

The government continues to take measures to tackle homelessness through extending the ‘No Second Night Out’ programme, the Ministerial Working Group to end rough sleeping.  However evidence of the ineffectiveness of ethnic monitoring within the housing sector leaves us wondering how the effect on BME communities will be evaluated.

Lack of cultural sensitivity and awareness

In a recent briefing paper from the Race Equality Foundation concerns were highlighted about the limitations of mainstream housing services. Mainstream services can have a lack of awareness or insensitivity in relation to cultural needs. BME organisations are perceived to better understand the needs of these communities and provide appropriate services.  However, because these organisations tend not be housing specialists, they are less likely to have sufficient knowledge to provide effective homelessness support.   

Evidence has found that mainstream organisations take fewer referrals from BME organisations, despite the high number of homeless BME individuals.

Better collaborations needed

Better partnership working between mainstream and BME organisations is really important. Housing providers have a duty to those who become ‘unintentionally’ homeless and prioritise their need, regardless of their ethnicity.  Better collaboration will not only increase awareness amongst BME communities of homelessness services, but also widen access to early intervention, maintain on-going support to vulnerable individuals and inform policy development.

The 'Better Housing' briefing paper on linking BME organisations with mainstream homeless service providers includes best practice examples of partnership working to address homelessness from these communities.

This paper is one in a range of briefings for housing workers commissioned by the Race Equality Foundation which outlines research evidence, best practice examples and resources on topical issues.  These briefings aim to help workers address race equality in their everyday work.  All are available to download from


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