The matter of homelessness, its link to autism and the lack of appropriate housing for autistic individuals is a major focus for Autism Anglia with their new campaign.

When society accepts homelessness and food banks as the norm then challenges have to be made and changes to attitudes demanded. Autism Anglia knows the tragic reality of the impact of homelessness. People call us in extreme distress, with deteriorating mental health, suicide ideations and self-harm and some have been driven to suicide. It is an increasing issue for those leaving education or care-leavers, and particularly for men in their twenties.

Research carried out in June 2018 by Alasdair Churchard, Morag Ryder and William Mandy from UCL and Andrew Greenhill from Kensington and Chelsea Learning Disability Service found 12.3 per cent of the 106 rough sleepers that were screened “showed strong signs of autistic traits that would be consistent with an autism diagnosis.” Which strongly suggests autistic adults are over-represented within the homeless population. Autism Anglia is researching current statistics of how many autistic people are affected with homelessness within East Anglia

Anecdotal evidence suggests that autistic people experience an elevated risk of homelessness.” States the Prevalence of Autistic Traits in a Homeless Population – April 2018

Homelessness is not a choice that authorities should be considering as a reasonable option for individuals. As a charity, we have observed that the gaps in services lead to a “revolving door” between the criminal justice system and the mental health service. Increased understanding of vulnerability and earlier intervention from organisations can avoid the human cost of a lack of suitable housing and make savings across all departments.

Anna Kennedy shared: “I first met Annie Sands Autism Anglia’s Manager of Welfare Rights when she was a winner at our Charity National Autism Hero Awards. I am happy to support Autism Anglia with their project on Autism and Homelessness since I have been working alongside Annie Sands on a recent case where I was impressed with her knowledge, care and support for this vulnerable autistic adult. We both strongly believe that more work and awareness raising needs to be undertaken in this area”

In February Annie Sands, Autism Anglia’s Senior Welfare Rights Adviser was contacted by Anna Kennedy OBE, a stalwart in the autism world and an avid campaigner, after being contacted herself by Dominic who is Autistic, homeless and who had just lost his job. Dominic immediately went to Cornwall County Council pleading for help.

Dominic shared “Despite being showed evidence of my vulnerability and other quite serious health conditions apart from Autism they said I was not a priority or considered vulnerable” 

Dominic reached out to Anna Kennedy who put him in touch with Annie Sands from Autism Anglia. Annie put Dominic in touch with other organisations such as Spectrum (an Autism charity in Cornwall) and Holywell Trust (a charity who assist in housing Autistic people.)  Between Anna and Annie, they guided Cornwall Council to put Dominic in emergency accommodation.

Dominic shared “The future looks brighter as Holywell Trust have found me s place to live which should be ok to move into in a couple of weeks.” 

CEO of Autism Anglia, Alan Bicknell, shared: “housing is such a basic need for people that anything we can do to improve the situation must help in some way.”

With that aim, Autism Anglia will be extending a meeting invitation to regional authorities and housing associations across East Anglia, as well as elected members and organisers of food banks, to discuss where improvements need to be made. We will look to involve organisations like Shelter and The Big Issue and Autism Leads to take a campaign to the central government to make informed changes to policies and procedures. 

Local authorities should be providing specific autism training to their staff and the necessary support that individuals require when seeking housing advice in order to prevent homelessness. From our experience, we regularly observe lack of communication and joint working among statutory agencies and often, the autistic individual is the ‘ping pong ball’ between two bats.

Autism Anglia are aware of cases on emergency housing lists for over 5 years, not meeting the needs of the individual can cause ill-health and family breakdown. There needs to be informed prioritisation criteria used by housing organisations so that suitable allocations are made.

Local authorities need to look at processes to enhance levels of understanding to prevent this group from further vulnerability and risk. More than ever, this will be paramount with the introduction of Universal credit and all the complexities that it brings.

As a regional charity representing autistic individuals, we are well-placed to highlight these issues and to give the autistic community a strong voice in decision making as set out in the autism strategy.

If you know someone affected by this issue in East Anglia and on the autistic spectrum, they can contact Autism Anglia helpline 0300 1233 122 for advice, or Shelter have a free helpline for urgent housing advice 0808 800 4444.