BCHA, like so many Housing Associations, was formed by a group of local churches in the aftermath of the first screening of Cathy Come Home in 1966 on BBC television. BCHA was subsequently formed in 1968 and now supports over 10,000 people every year to take control of their lives and equips them to find a way forward.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of Cathy Come Home, Peter Hoyle, current Chair of the Board at BCHA, talks about how the film inspired him to become involved with housing, as well as discussing the current issues facing the housing sector and why homelessness is still a major problem 50 years on.
Do you recall your reaction when you first watched Cathy Come Home?
I remember watching this Wednesday Play episode at home and was struck by the gritty realism of the production. I was shocked by the unfolding events affecting the family and the extremely upsetting ending.
Where you previously aware of housing issues in England before you watched the play?
I had some awareness as my parents are Salvation Army Officers (now long retired of course) and knew that the Army had hostels for homeless people.
How did Cathy Come Home inspire you to get involved with housing?
When I left school I went into Banking. Fifty years ago when the Bank Manager was a well-respected pillar of the community it was a good role to aspire to. However, I found that this particular career path was not really for me and I wanted to do something that was more directly of benefit to the community. I never forgot the impression that Cathy Come Home had made on me. My fiancée, now my wife, was working in the local Youth Employment Office at that time and saw that Bournemouth Council was advertising for a Housing Officer. I applied and was appointed.
What was your first role in housing and what happened in those early days within housing departments and Housing Associations?
I began in housing in 1969 and first of all was put into Lettings where I learnt how to manage the Housing List and the process for allocating housing. At that time there was no duty on housing authorities to help homeless people, that duty fell upon the authorities’ Welfare function. The Housing response if someone came into the office saying that they were homeless was to inform them that we couldn’t help them un-less they had an address and send them to the Welfare Department! It seems extremely perverse now.
With the 50th anniversary of Cathy Come Home approaching, what are your thoughts on what has happened since the late 60s in housing?
Things changed considerably when the Homeless Persons Act came into force on the 1st December 1977. This placed a statutory duty upon housing authorities to assist some homeless people if they came within priority needs categories. However, most single homeless people were not considered to be within these categories. Consequently, homelessness amongst single people and rough sleeping continued to increase. In the mid-1990s the government of the time took steps to address the rough sleeping issue and provided significant funding to local authorities to help them provide services.
The message from the Homes for Cathy campaign is that 50 years on homelessness is still a big problem – would you agree?
When I got into a senior position in Housing I was fortunate that it was at a time when funding was availa-ble to build new social and affordable housing in significant numbers. It was also recognised that many homeless single people and people sleeping rough had complex needs and funding was available to de-velop appropriate services which massively reduced local homelessness and rough sleeping. Unfortu-nately, housing and homelessness is not now viewed as being a priority by government and there is not the necessary funding available either to invest in new social/affordable housing or to maintain homeless-ness services at the former level. Consequently matters have definitely taken a backward step and homelessness is still a big problem. Locally rough sleeping is back at the level that existed in the 1990s.
What can Housing Associations, like BCHA, do to help tackle the issue of homelessness?
Organisations such as BCHA which have built up valuable expertise and experience have a key role in helping homeless people, particularly those with complex needs. However, services have to paid funded and there is a limit to what BCHA can achieve without funding being available, particularly for support services. We, along with other providers, have a continuing role in lobbying for change.