Crisis campaign takes off

The No One Turned Away initiative has led to a private member's bill in parliament

In October, the Homelessness Reduction Bill received huge support from MPs of all parties during its second reading in the House of Commons. A private member's bill, it came into being solely because of two years of campaigning by Crisis, the national charity for homelessness.

Crisis's No One Turned Away campaign was launched in October 2014 with the aim of getting politicians to review the help single homeless people in England receive under the law.

It began with an undercover investigation. Between February and April 2014, eight formerly homeless people visited 16 local authorities to examine the quality of help they were prepared to give. The results were eye-opening. "We did 87 visits and in 50 of them people got nothing from the council despite presenting in desperate need," says Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis. "That was enough to launch the campaign and show how people were being turned away."

The mystery shopping took on a life of its own, Downie says, turning a group of people who had experienced homelessness into real political spokespeople. A prime example was a young, formerly homeless woman called Mateasa, who questioned the Prime Minister of the day, David Cameron, in April 2015 after being invited to take part in a hustings for young people live on Radio 1.

"We didn't arrange for her to have a go at David Cameron, but we did respond with a press release when he got the stats wrong," says Downie, who secured coverage of the story in The Independent.

Almost every other major media outlet has covered the campaign: from an interview with Downie on Radio 4's Today programme to The Huffington Post's coverage of a meeting, arranged by Crisis, between the actor Richard Gere and Greg Clark, then the communities secretary. Their main interest was the Homelessness Reduction Bill, drafted by Crisis with other sector bodies. The bill - which Crisis says is a historic opportunity to transform how homelessness is tackled in England - seeks to ensure that all homeless people receive the support they need from local authorities.

Downie says the charity kept a keen eye on this year's private member's bill ballot, which takes place annually to enable backbench MPs to initiate new legislation. Before the ballot took place in May, Crisis contacted every MP, offering them the chance to champion the bill if they were selected. After the ballot had happened, it contacted the 20 MPs who were selected.

"We told them we had a bill drafted and we could draft their briefings for them if they took it on," says Downie. In June, the Conservative MP Bob Blackman took the charity up on its offer.

The bill passed its first hurdle in the Commons on 28 October when it was approved by MPs, with no votes against. Downie believes this was partly down to Crisis and other homelessness charities transporting 200 formerly homeless people to Westminster to ask their MPs to attend the second reading. Another factor was the 10,000 people Crisis managed to mobilise to send bespoke emails or letters to their MPs.

Downie says this was a far more effective way of influencing than a petition.

The bill will go forward for detailed scrutiny, but Downie remains cautious: "Until we see a successful reform of the system that is genuinely changing the way homeless people are treated, we can't take our foot off the pedal."

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