Author Archives: homesforcathy

About homesforcathy

Administered by Hightown HA. Homes for Cathy is a national alliance of housing associations, that have come together to end homelessness.

Covid-19: Homelessness, Rough Sleeping, the PRS

Submission from ‘Homes for Cathy Group’ to HCLG Select Committee inquiry

How effective has the support provided by MHCLG and other Government departments in addressing the impact of COVID-19 on those in the private rented sector, rough sleepers, and the homeless?

The Homes for Cathy group is made up of over 100 housing associations and housing charities/organisations who are committed to providing housing and support to homeless people and households and have developed nine Homes for Cathy commitments with the homeless charity, Crisis, which underpin our work.

This submission only relates to rough sleepers and homeless people.

The ‘Everyone In’ initiative has been a huge success in getting rough sleepers off the streets and in to temporary housing and the Government and the MHCLG must be congratulated.

Of course, it has required a massive effort from our members, from local government and from many other housing and support organisations to find accommodation and immediate support for the approximately 5,400 rough sleepers that were housed.

We now need to plan for how those 5,400 people will be permanently housed and supported and the key to this is capital funding to provide affordable housing and revenue funding to provide support.

What problems remain a current and immediate concern for these groups?

Clearly, the primary concern is for the long term future for those rough sleepers recently housed in temporary accommodation. We do not know when they will be asked to leave their current accommodation. There is no fixed ‘end date’ for lockdown. But individual hotels where many of the rough sleepers are housed will eventually want the rooms back.

Another concern, however, is the breakdown of many of the placements that were made. The Guardian has reported that 20% of those rehoused in Manchester are homeless once again, and our members are reporting similar figures in other parts of the country. South Yorkshire Housing Association in Sheffield found that many people rehoused have been targeted and “cuckooed” – typically by drug dealers and criminal groups. Providing the accommodation on its own is not sufficient. Many people need very intensive housing support, such as that provided by Housing First and similar schemes, and the consistent support of other public services such as mental health and drug and alcohol services.

Of course, the need to try to maintain ‘social distancing’ while providing support for the people in the temporary accommodation is a major challenge. Some clients are unwilling to fully cooperate putting staff and other clients at risk.

What might be the immediate post-lockdown impacts for these groups, and what action is needed to help with these?

Immediate action is needed to provide Government funding for the long term housing and support for the 5,400 rough sleepers people housed in temporary accommodation. Otherwise we will be back to square one and the Government’s targets on rough sleeping will not be met.

There is unlikely to be time to build new social/affordable homes from scratch so housing associations need capital funds from Government to:

  • Convert unsold shared ownership homes owned by housing associations to social/affordable rent
  • Convert shared ownership homes under construction and about to be handed over to housing associations to social/affordable rent
  • Convert unsold market sale properties owned by housing associations to social/affordable rent
  • Purchase properties on the open market including new, unsold homes from national and local housebuilders

The primary need will be for one bedroom self-contained flats. Ideally the funding will be sufficient for housing associations to charge social rents which will then reduce the housing benefit bill. The Homes for Cathy group is currently working to provide estimated costings for such a programme.

Homes for Cathy members already provide homelessness support services including Housing First.

It is essential that the housing provided to rough sleepers leaving the temporary accommodation comes with appropriate support services. Many of the rough sleepers have high support needs

Crisis estimate the cost of support for the estimated 5400 rough sleepers will be around £63,000,000 for 12 months and the Homes for Cathy group concurs with this estimate. Crisis estimate that 50% of the rough sleepers will require Housing First support, 30% will require Critical Time Intervention support and 20% will require floating support.

An early commitment from the Government to fund the supply of new social homes to house the 5,400 rough sleepers in temporary accommodation will allow housing associations to immediately gear up to convert tenures or purchase homes and be ready when the lock down ends.

COVID-19: Homelessness, Rough Sleeping, the PRS

Submission from ‘Homes for Cathy Group’ to HCLG Select Committee inquiry

How effective has the support provided by MHCLG and other Government departments in addressing the impact of COVID-19 on those in the private rented sector, rough sleepers, and the homeless?

The Homes for Cathy group is made up of over 100 housing associations and housing charities/organisations who are committed to providing housing and support to homeless people and households and have developed nine Homes for Cathy commitments with the homeless charity, Crisis, which underpin our work.

This submission only relates to rough sleepers and homeless people.

The ‘Everyone In’ initiative has been a huge success in getting rough sleepers off the streets and in to temporary housing and the Government and the MHCLG must be congratulated.

Of course, it has required a massive effort from our members, from local government and from many other housing and support organisations to find accommodation and immediate support for the approximately 5,400 rough sleepers that were housed.

We now need to plan for how those 5,400 people will be permanently housed and supported and the key to this is capital funding to provide affordable housing and revenue funding to provide support.

What problems remain a current and immediate concern for these groups?

Clearly, the primary concern is for the long term future for those rough sleepers recently housed in temporary accommodation. We do not know when they will be asked to leave their current accommodation. There is no fixed ‘end date’ for lockdown. But individual hotels where many of the rough sleepers are housed will eventually want the rooms back.

Another concern, however, is the breakdown of many of the placements that were made. The Guardian has reported that 20% of those rehoused in Manchester are homeless once again, and our members are reporting similar figures in other parts of the country. South Yorkshire Housing Association in Sheffield found that many people rehoused have been targeted and “cuckooed” – typically by drug dealers and criminal groups. Providing the accommodation on its own is not sufficient. Many people need very intensive housing support, such as that provided by Housing First and similar schemes, and the consistent support of other public services such as mental health and drug and alcohol services.

Of course, the need to try to maintain ‘social distancing’ while providing support for the people in the temporary accommodation is a major challenge. Some clients are unwilling to fully cooperate putting staff and other clients at risk.

What might be the immediate post-lockdown impacts for these groups, and what action is needed to help with these?

Immediate action is needed to provide Government funding for the long term housing and support for the 5,400 rough sleepers people housed in temporary accommodation. Otherwise we will be back to square one and the Government’s targets on rough sleeping will not be met.

There is unlikely to be time to build new social/affordable homes from scratch so housing associations need capital funds from Government to:

  • Convert unsold shared ownership homes owned by housing associations to social/affordable rent
  • Convert shared ownership homes under construction and about to be handed over to housing associations to social/affordable rent
  • Convert unsold market sale properties owned by housing associations to social/affordable rent
  • Purchase properties on the open market including new, unsold homes from national and local housebuilders

The primary need will be for one bedroom self-contained flats. Ideally the funding will be sufficient for housing associations to charge social rents which will then reduce the housing benefit bill. The Homes for Cathy group is currently working to provide estimated costings for such a programme.

Homes for Cathy members already provide homelessness support services including Housing First.

It is essential that the housing provided to rough sleepers leaving the temporary accommodation comes with appropriate support services. Many of the rough sleepers have high support needs

Crisis estimate the cost of support for the estimated 5400 rough sleepers will be around £63,000,000 for 12 months and the Homes for Cathy group concurs with this estimate. Crisis estimate that 50% of the rough sleepers will require Housing First support, 30% will require Critical Time Intervention support and 20% will require floating support.

An early commitment from the Government to fund the supply of new social homes to house the 5,400 rough sleepers in temporary accommodation will allow housing associations to immediately gear up to convert tenures or purchase homes and be ready when the lock down ends.

Six steps that could help us transform the way we tackle homelessness

First published in Inside Housing, Comment 21/04/2020

BY DR LIGIA TEIXEIRA, CEO of Homeless Impact

There is a danger the response to the COVID-19 pandemic will ultimately amount to little more than rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic when it comes to homelessness, writes Dr Lígia Teixeira. Here she sets out six suggestions for overhauling the system to deliver lasting change.

On April 14, 1912 —108 years ago last week— the RMS Titanic sank, and 1,500 lives were lost. As with the coronavirus pandemic today, the story was headline news when it happened.

Since the fateful night when the ship hit the iceberg, it has left a remarkable cultural legacy. “Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” being probably the most famous metaphor connected to any major disaster, and one that provides a useful thought experiment in relation to homelessness.

Today we sense that the coronavirus pandemic will transform the economy beyond all recognition and hit the poorest in society hardest, potentially pushing greater numbers of people than ever before into homelessness. The outbreak came at a time when governments and cities across the UK had committed to plans to end homelessness. History had already told us this was never going to be easy, but the task is about to get a lot harder.

In a field like homelessness, filled with age old habits and passions, but with a lack of clear, rigorous evidence, what can be done to steer clear of disaster?

In fact, what can be done to turn the crisis into an opportunity to transform the homelessness system and ensure we’re not just “rearranging the deck chairs”?

The story of the Titanic offers several concrete suggestions.

1 Question assumptions and cultivate imagination

The Titanic’s owners and her captain assumed that it could never sink. Their overconfidence led to poor decisions — such as removing an entire row of lifeboats just before she sailed for purely cosmetic reasons.

The ability to question assumptions may well be one of the most important habits to cultivate in homelessness today.

We should be asking ourselves, “Should the aim be to return to business as usual post-crisis, including helping people housed in hotels during the pandemic return to shelter-style accommodation? Or may this be a unique opportunity to try something better?”

Humility, asking the right questions, and using data and evidence to test prevailing assumptions is vital at a time like this.

We also need to be more creative.

For instance, the default way to address homelessness is still by providing emergency housing and services, even though evidence suggests that this is costly and ineffective.

It does not address the root cause of homelessness and people can become institutionalised and exposed to trauma or victimisation in the process.

You’d think we would have found alternatives by now. We haven’t, because we find it hard to believe that the systems we’ve created may be part of the problem or that anything better is even possible. We’ve lacked imagination, but there is nothing inevitable about this — we cannot change the past but we can change the future.

2 Go slow to go fast

The Titanic was travelling too quickly — 22 knots in an ice field. Had she been slower, she may well have missed the iceberg altogether.

In homelessness, we are often fixated on delivering solutions at pace. This is understandable given that lives can be at stake. But knowing when to slow down in order to go faster later may be just as important.

Are we making enough time to collect the data and evidence we need to make the right decisions? Are we stepping back often enough to understand what different subpopulations need? What do they want to accomplish? What are their goals? Are there ways to build the technology to handle their needs more effectively, while reducing evaluation costs?

3 Heed warnings and evidence

Ships nearby attempted to warn the Titanic, but the messages were ignored. Other signs were also missed such was the crew’s confidence that the journey would be a smooth one.

In the UK, a spike in homelessness levels seems likely within months unless major steps are taken.

Things have been moving in the right direction. But with the economy seemingly in free fall, it will be important for government and local areas across the UK to continue to act fast, with clarity, while also taking the long-term view.

We also need to use evidence and data to figure out what works for whom and what doesn’t, allowing us to reject the dangerous half-truths that often pass for wisdom. How else will we know whether we are doing the most good we can with the resources available?

4 Build better systems, as well as better lifeboats

To prevent homelessness at population level, requires complicated, system-wide solutions. We need to acknowledge that even our better services can never be more than lifeboats.

To create a better homelessness system you have to first understand how we came by the current one.

Since Victorian times, a homeless person could call upon the services of the Poor Law’s workhouse casual wards but also charities, such as the Salvation Army, which operated hostels, shelters and soup kitchens, as well as private entrepreneurs running lodging houses.

The modern homelessness system developed from there, more or less by accident.

By combining the intuitive and exploratory nature of person-centred design, with the leverage-minded and strategic nature of systems thinking, and improving the way data and evidence is generated to drive better outcomes, we can begin to shift the system.

Current evidence suggests that most homeless people need temporary low-support with resolving a recent housing loss and other significant life event, or with transitioning out of an institutional living environment.

They do not necessarily need an emergency housing stay. By reallocating resources towards prevention – including interventions that help mainstream services respond more effectively to people at risk – and more normalised housing environments, our approach to addressing homelessness will be more humane and effective.

We also know that to stop the flow of people into homelessness we need to address the larger housing affordability issues, and ensure welfare support and wages are adequate.

5 Communicate, communicate, communicate

Despite having state-of-the-art communication systems, the Titanic failed to effectively communicate with three nearby ships that actually could have rescued all of its passengers.

The government’s daily coronavirus updates have gone a long way towards setting out the official plan and the rationale behind the decisions being made.

Given the likely disproportionate impact on the homeless population it may be beneficial to double down on subject specific communications efforts at both national and local levels. In the absence of information, people will make it up.

Creating plenty of opportunities to let them talk and ask questions will make them feel better and help decision-makers gather and respond to feedback quickly.

6 Foster collective leadership

Lack of co-operation and collaboration resulted in greater loss of life when the Titanic sank.

While there seemed to be a ship relatively close by, the nearest ship responding to Titanic’s SOS distress signal was Carpathia, and she was more than four hours away.

We get so caught up in our daily work that we often forget to build powerful collaborative networks.

Yet collaboration and support across organisations and sectors is one of the best ways to help people experiencing homelessness both now and post crisis.

This will involve shifting focus from reactive responses to having more generative conversations about how we might co-create the future.

Building a new homelessness system is vital to achieve our ambitious goals, but it won’t be easy.

Tackling a tough complicated social issue like homelessness requires a willingness to question assumptions, discover new possibilities, and experiment to find out how to make the most good with existing resources.

But with collective leadership and a humble ‘what works’ mindset we can change course. In fact, the future of this particular ship depends on it.

Veteran homelessness: Asking the right questions is crucial

Veteran issues have been in the spotlight recently, with the launch of the Government’s Veteran Strategy, and the creation of the Office of Veteran Affairs. Homes for Cathy member Riverside is one housing association that is committed to supporting veterans – Homes for Cathy spoke to Lee Buss, Riverside Director of Operations and Group Veterans Lead, to find out about the particular challenges veterans face in obtaining housing and how, as a sector, we can better respond to their needs.

As part of its commitment to veterans facing homelessness, Riverside runs three veteran accommodation services and two resettlement support services.  The Beacon, Hardwick House and Mike Jackson House supported accommodation centres were developed by staff who have served in the Armed Forces themselves – something that the organisation believes is an important factor in running effective services.  In addition, Riverside operates SPACES, a resettlement advice and case work service, which has helped over 18,000 homeless ex-servicemen and women since it was established in 2000.  Another Riverside housing advice service is located with the Military Corrective Training Centre (MCTC) in Colchester. 

Tailored veteran support

According to Lee Buss – a veteran himself – one of the main challenges around supporting veterans is a sense of disconnection from civilian society.  He says:

“The Royal British Legion estimates there are 6,000 homeless veterans in the UK, and while the number of veterans sleeping rough isn’t 100% clear, most estimates place the figure at around 3% to 4% of the rough sleeping population.  As veterans represent around 5% of the overall population, this means that veterans are actually proportionally under-represented in terms of homelessness statistics. 

“Everyone’s journey into and out of homelessness is particular to them. However, specific populations such as veterans tend toward specific needs requiring specific responses. It takes a veteran on average nine years to ask for help – they can find it very difficult to engage with and trust professionals in services who have no military background, often as a result of their experience of transition, making them feel threatened, isolated and insular.  They’re more likely to take up help if it’s being offered by an organisation that they know specifically supports veterans and that they perceive understands them, particularly if it’s in the form of peer support from other veterans.”

He adds: “As in the general population, veteran homelessness is commonly linked to trauma – although ex-servicemen and women are no more pre-disposed to PTSD than anyone else, the experience of battle can make a pre-existing condition resurface.  Providing the right type of support is therefore crucial.”

In terms of housing, Lee is keen to stress veterans should not necessarily be given preference for properties over other vulnerable groups – instead the obstacles and barriers that hinder their pathways out of homelessness and into housing need to be removed.

“It’s not about veterans being given special treatment, it’s about putting measures in place to ensure they’re not disadvantaged as a result of their service.  For example, in terms of choice based lettings or access to supported housing, the local connection criteria can have a real impact for people leaving the Armed Forces, who may been posted abroad or lived in different military bases across the UK.  We are supporting veterans housing association Stoll and the Cobseo Housing Cluster in their campaign for local authorities to sign up to the Armed Forces covenant, whereby they promise to ensure that veterans and armed forces personnel are not disadvantaged as a result of their service.”

Signposting and asking the right questions

Outside of specialist supported housing for veterans, the one area where housing associations can have an influence over veteran homelessness is to develop a better knowledge of the organisations that support veterans, in order to be able to guide tenants to the appropriate, tailored support. 

“There’s a huge amount of support for veterans on offer but you can only signpost them to it if you know what’s out there.  Housing associations can help by compiling a list of local organisations that frontline staff can direct veterans towards,” adds Lee. 

However, the most crucial thing is to have measures in place to identify veterans from the point of engagement, a message that is echoed in Stoll and the Cobseo Housing Cluster’s No Homeless Veterans campaign, which urges housing and homelessness staff to ‘Think Veteran’ and identify people who are ex-Forces.

Lee concludes:

“It’s vital that housing officers know who their veterans are, and have some insight into their unique history and circumstances and the services available to support them – so housing associations need to ensure they ask prospective tenants their veteran status and have systems in place to record it.”

To find out more about Riverside’s veterans services and research and recommendations into tackling veteran homelessness, click here.  To find out more about the network of organisations supporting the Armed Forces community, visit Veterans Gateway.

Does your organisation offer support for veterans?  How can housing providers improve veterans’ pathways into housing?  We’d love to hear from you – get in touch with us at homesfor.cathy@hightownha.org.uk or comment below.

The supported housing scheme offering a lifeline to vulnerable women

A traumatic past and mental health challenges are a common factor for many people at risk of homelessness.  However, women in particular are often at greater threat of living with complex, multiple disadvantages that can lead to them becoming homeless, especially where dependent children are involved. 

Homes for Cathy spoke to North Star Housing Group, one member organisation that is committed to offering a lifeline to vulnerable women to support them away from homelessness.  North Star’s Hestia Service provides accommodation with intensive support to women in Teesside. In the two decades since the service’s inception, it has helped around 120 women gain the opportunity for a more positive future, with a secure, settled home for life, the cornerstone of its philosophy.

North Star’s Pauline Byrnes, Hestia manager, says, “Our USP is that once our service users no longer require support, they can remain in their home. If they want it to be a home for life, that’s exactly what it can be. Once support is no longer required, the property reverts to general needs property. This provides service users with the stability they’ve never had and from there they can start to address the other issues they may be facing.  All we ask is that they fully engage in the support offered at the outset.”

Hestia’s service users are referred from a range of agencies including the local authority’s homeless service, mental health services, social care and probation and all are classed as homeless.  Some have experienced failed private rental tenancies because of their mental health problems, while others have fled domestic violence or forced marriages.  The service has also supported women with mild learning difficulties, as well as women whose children have special needs, many of whom receive no support from their families. 

Properties from general needs stock

New service users are offered a property from North Star’s general needs stock which becomes a supported tenancy (Assured Shorthold).  These are properties dispersed throughout the local area, rather than located in one dedicated block. They are usually terraced houses with a small back yard, typical of Middlesbrough’s traditional town centre housing stock.  The properties are hand-picked to ensure they are located in areas where tenants can feel safe and come equipped with furniture, soft furnishings, white goods and kitchenware, ready for tenants to move into.  Every property offered is newly decorated to a high standard, ensuring a homely and welcoming environment where tenants want to stay.

Pauline comments, “Our service users take an enormous pride in their new home, often adding their own finishing touches such as cushions and pictures to really make it their own.”

Floating support is provided through a dedicated Hestia service coordinator, offering person centred support. This could include support with all aspects of managing a tenancy, budgeting and rent payments and liaison with North Star’s welfare benefits officer to ensure they are claiming any back-dated benefits they are entitled to.  Service users may also be supported to engage with other services, access recreational activities, education, volunteering opportunities and employment and build links in their local community.

Floating support to break homelessness cycle

Pauline adds, “From the point of referral, we work closely with all the involved agencies such as mental health and social care to identify any risks and draw up a risk management plan.  We also link in closely with other local support services in the area such as the CAB and credit unions.”

The approach certainly works, helping women rebuild their lives and gain hope for the future.  Says Pauline, “On average the support we offer is required for around 18 months but it’s enough to break the cycle of homelessness.  It’s wonderful to see our service users’ self-confidence and self-esteem improve to the point that they can move on in their lives and start to live independently.”

AB’s Story

AB was removed from the family home by Cleveland Police due to concerns regarding her safety. AB is of Pakistani descent, her marriage was arranged, and she moved to the North East to live with her husband and his extended family. During eight years of marriage AB was physically, financially and mentally abused. She was barred from using basic facilities such as the family bathroom and was told to bathe from a bucket of water, even after she gave birth to her daughter. She was beaten regularly by all the family with sticks, hands or pulling out AB’s hair and was made to cook and clean from 7am until 12 midnight every day of the week. AB managed to get to a phone one day and phoned 999, Police took immediate action, and AB was placed in a safe house. AB was unable to take her daughter, and it became clear that her signature had been forged on to numerous documents; one example is that AB’s signature was on a document which gave up her parental responsibilities, another was to claim carer’s allowance.  All documents were signed fraudulently by the husband’s family, without AB’s consent. AB did not have basic living skills, she had had hardly any communication with the outside world, lacked confidence and was unable to do the most basic of tasks. With support from Hestia, AB is now going to the shops, paying her bills and will soon be awarded full custody of her daughter who is now living with AB full-time. The final custody hearing is pending.

The social landlords making Housing First work

Homes for Cathy hears from three member organisations that have played a role in getting Housing First schemes off the ground to discover the challenges housing associations face in making the model a success.

Developed in the US in the 80s and adopted with widespread success in mainland Europe, Housing First is an evidence-based approach to homelessness intervention that has gained significant momentum in the UK over the past three years.

Heralded as a solution to our growing rough sleeping crisis, the approach takes entrenched rough sleepers with high and complex needs off the streets and into permanent accommodation with intensive, tailored and open-ended support.  Unlike traditional approaches to homelessness intervention, with Housing First no preconditions are placed on individuals, only a willingness to maintain their tenancy agreement.  Individuals are not required to address any other needs they might have, or engage with other services, in order to keep their home.

The model has attracted high profile support; in 2017 Theresa May pledged £28 million to fund three regional Housing First pilots in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands, the Scottish government is investing £6.5 million in a three year Housing First roll-out and in Wales, £700,000 has been allocated by the government for Housing First schemes.  

Aside from these pilots, many more Housing First schemes have been launched at local level – around two thirds of these have been funded by local authorities, usually through Housing Related Support budgets, according to Housing First England.

Social landlords have been called upon to help get schemes off the ground, by providing both accommodation and in some cases the wraparound support that is intrinsic to making the model work.  However, the relative infancy of Housing First in the UK means the model represents uncharted waters for most housing associations, and many face a steep learning curve in establishing schemes. 

Securing funding and pilot projects

Gaining board approval and securing funding is only the tip of the iceberg in what can be a lengthy process.  Homes for Cathy member, Soha Housing, worked with its key local authority, South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC), which put up joint funding for a pilot project of six properties from Soha’s housing stock. 

Maureen Adams, Soha’s Director of Services and Communities, comments:

“SODC helped establish a Project Board and provided access to homeless people with complex needs, suggesting ways to manage the risks and establish a framework that would be acceptable to homeless people, the local community, and politicians alike.

“We then worked with Aspire, a local specialist charity with expertise in homelessness and staff skilled in handling vulnerability and substance misuse, who provided extensive pre-engagement activity with service users.”

Stephanie Wood, Head of Supported Housing at Homes for Cathy member Sovereign Housing, which is involved with Housing First schemes in West Berkshire and on the Isle of Wight in partnership with charity Two Saints, says:

“Housing associations need to consider that it can take a very long time to get Housing First schemes up and running.  A lot of work happens to get everyone on the same page before a person is housed, from identifying suitable people through to building their trust and getting their buy in.  Every stakeholder in the project needs to be realistic about the timescales involved, particularly as there are usually multiple agencies working together.”

Establishing eligibility

Establishing eligibility is an important part of the process.  While stakeholders involved in setting up schemes may have a good knowledge of individuals who would be suitable, in a multi-agency approach, ideas can differ. 

Daniel Revell-Wiseman, Care and Supported Housing Contracts Manager for Hightown Housing Association, which is working with both St Albans District Council and Dacorum Borough Council in Hemel Hempstead to launch a Housing First scheme, comments:

“Working across areas can be a challenge, as in each area there can be differing needs in terms of who is a priority for housing. Having a strong criteria for the service is therefore essential in order to easily assess the individuals who could benefit the most.”

The longer timescales necessary to identify suitable tenants and carry out pre-engagement work can have ramifications for landlords in terms of the accommodation they have identified for schemes. 

Daniel adds:

“To be true to the Housing First model, we should identify the service user first and then find suitable property.  However, in reality, we have found possible properties before we have had referrals.  It can be a challenge to have homes available at the point you need them – registered providers need to be prepared for longer void periods as a result.”

Flexible approach

Indeed, flexibility is key to making the model work – for Sovereign this was a matter of re-thinking pre-conceived ideas of what type of accommodation would be suitable.

Stephanie Wood says:

“Previously, we had set principles of what our Housing First homes should look like – for example, not in a town centre so service users could not go back to their old way of life.  However, we’ve come to realise that the best type of accommodation is always very specific to the resident.  Now we take time to match the accommodation to the individual, and although they don’t go through choice based lettings, we do offer them some flexibility about where they want to go.”

One of the biggest learning curves for housing associations is around formalising new processes and systems that meet the Housing First approach, establishing what is and what isn’t needed and adapting the existing mindset within their organisation.

Sovereign reviewed its tenancy agreement and tenancy sign up processes to better suit the Housing First model, making the meeting to go through the tenancy agreement a different day to the sign up itself.  This approach has minimised potential distractions and allowed staff time to spend setting expectations, while giving tenants the opportunity to process the information and ask questions. 

Sign up takes place in a neutral place other than Sovereign’s offices or the accommodation, to provide a less intimidating, less formal environment.

Stephanie adds:

“It’s all about gaining the trust of the tenant; they may have had a bad experience with a housing association or other service provider in the past, for example in a hostel the service provider runs.”

Once Housing First tenants are in their accommodation, flexibility around rent is also crucial to making the model work. 

Comments Stephanie:

“We’re offering fixed term tenancies, so we’re carrying a big chunk of risk.  Despite this, we have had to be more relaxed in terms of collecting rent.  For example, we recently had a hiccup with a Universal Credit application – our income team reported that no application had been processed, but because the tenant was flagged up on our system as Housing First, we did not pursue the normal income recovery procedures.”

Measuring success

So far, all three housing associations report positive feedback from the Housing First schemes in which they’re involved, however with a model that centres on open-ended support, continued funding remains a key consideration.   

Soha’s Maureen Adams concludes:

“Several months after the scheme was launched, Soha has housed 13 nominations and is moving people who would be difficult to house through traditional choice based lettings routes into homes where they want to live. 

“It’s been an important new venture that staff and residents are backing, including our chief executive, who helped steer it through at board level.  However, gathering evidence of the scheme’s success will be imperative, particularly as we plan to approach other public funded bodies to seek additional funding in order to extend the project. To this end, we have commissioned an independent evaluation by a social research agency to ensure we are adhering to the Housing First principles.”

For more information on Housing First, including guidance and toolkits for social landlords, visit Housing First England.

Is your organisation involved in a Housing First scheme?  We would love to hear about your experiences, the challenges you have faced and advice you would give to other organisations looking to implement the approach.  Email us at homesfor.cathy@hightownha.org.uk.

Trial furniture scheme ensures social housing properties are ready to move into

Commitment 7 of the Homes for Cathy commitments is to ‘ensure that properties offered to homeless people should be ready to move into’.  According to Crisis’ ‘Everybody In’ plan to end homelessness, social housing properties offered without furniture and white goods, carpets and wall coverings deter people on low incomes from taking them up.  This issue was consistently raised during the consultation process to develop the plan, as well as being highlighted by staff running homelessness services.  Without the means to make social housing properties ready to move into, people on low incomes can often be pushed towards private rented sector properties; these might be equipped with furniture and white goods, but they offer less security and higher rents. 

Using local networks to source furniture and white goods

Commitment 7 is about encouraging housing associations to use their local networks to identify sources of cheap or free furniture or helping tenants to access affordable financing so they can make their own purchases.  Homes for Cathy member Flagship Group, which manages and maintains over 28,000 homes in the eastern region, rose to the challenge on both fronts.  The housing association recently partnered with the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to create a trial ‘furniture scheme’ to provide vouchers for customers in need of necessary household items. 

The idea for the scheme came from Flagship’s housing officers recognising that some families could benefit from having a home that was ready to move into, helping them reduce any initial expenditure.

The trial lasted six weeks and in this time 13 housing officers provided 22 vouchers to customers in need. The vouchers were redeemable at local BHF stores, giving customers the opportunity to choose their own furniture. The most requested items were white goods. The scheme provided £3,599 worth of necessary household items, over the six-week period.

One of the customers to benefit from the scheme was Miss Mongan, who was recently rehomed by Flagship Homes after being in refuge. As a single parent of two young children and in receipt of Universal Credit, she found it difficult to pay rent and save for a much-needed washing machine. Miss Mongan confided in her housing officer Paula, as she didn’t feel like she could do her job as a mother, having to hand wash her children’s clothes and bedding. 

Helping tenants avoid slipping into rent arrears

Paula said, “I didn’t want her to slip into arrears and I knew she needed help as soon as possible. I wanted to see if there was anything we could do and that’s when I contacted our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Manager. Miss Mongan was so thrilled when I gave her the good news and it was great to help someone in a difficult situation. I think this trial is great.”

Miss Mongan said, “It was a God send. I cannot thank Paula enough, she’s been fantastic throughout the process and has supported me since day one. Thanks to Flagship too, the washing machine has helped me out of big hole.”

Callum James, Flagship Group’s CSR manager commented, “It is great to work with the BHF and see so many benefits, particularly to our new customers who have recently been homeless. The trial was very successful in ensuring that our homes are ready to move in to, we’re exploring how we may be able to embed and sustain initiatives such as this longer term to make a real difference to our customers.”

For more information about the scheme, contact Flagship Communication Team on commsteam@flagship-group.co.uk.

Successful tenancies start at the top

Recent welfare reforms including the introduction of Universal Credit have made affording rent harder than ever in recent years. In response, many Homes for Cathy members have introduced tenancy sustainment initiatives, helping thousands of tenants facing financial hardship to stay in their homes.  Homes for Cathy spoke to Christine Ashton, Executive Director of Housing at emh group to discover how the organisation is making sustainable tenancies its mission…

The shift towards ‘Housing First’ is a welcome and humane change in the way organisations respond to homelessness. But it makes sustainable lives, homes and tenancies more important than ever.

Securing a permanent home if you’ve been sleeping on the streets or living in temporary accommodation only counts as a success if you’re then able to use it as the springboard to a better and more settled life. There’s not much point in gaining the short-term relief of a property if your financial, health, family or other circumstances mean that you end up homeless again within a few months. Similarly, housing providers can’t expect vulnerable people with little or no experience of successful independent living to thrive in new tenancies without appropriate personal support.

A whole-organisation commitment

At emh group, we have business plan commitments to both help prevent homelessness and proactively address the impact of welfare reforms – with performance measures to check what difference we make. These top-level aims feed down into everyday decisions about who we house and the kinds of extra support we and our partners can offer to help people sustain their tenancies.

We do this through a detailed sustainability assessment toolkit, an in-house financial inclusion team and a network of partnerships with local money advice agencies, specialist services and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). Together, these give previously homeless people the best chance of sustaining their tenancy. It’s an approach that maximises our ability to offer the intensive and wide-ranging kinds of help that so many people need.

The assessment starts well before someone is offered a home; as soon as we get details of a potential nomination from one of our 45 partner councils, or there’s an upcoming transfer or exchange. We consider each person according to a matrix that weighs up their disposable income against a dozen other personal circumstances to produce an overall risk rating for tenancy sustainability.

The checklist includes factors like age, mental and physical health, benefits entitlement and status, debts, previous tenancies and any history of drug or alcohol misuse, domestic violence or offending to help us objectively gauge each person’s prospects of success in an emh tenancy.

Based on this assessment, we mobilise different levels of support to give every new resident the best combination of housing and help. This varies from straightforward extra contact and checks by our neighbourhood teams, up to comprehensive input from agencies and networks specialising in money advice, family support, mental health or disability.

In exceptional cases, if we feel someone’s needs are more than we and our partners can cater for, we review the nomination – working with the person themselves and the council to explore the best option. We’re honest and up-front about our concerns, and do all we can to help them find a more suitable housing route. Everyone needs to live somewhere of course, but we’re clear about what we can and cannot do, and take our responsibilities for the safety of staff and comfort of other residents seriously. Above all, we want people’s tenancies to succeed.

Clear results

Through joined-up thinking and by targeting our time and resources onto the people we can help most, we’ve achieved some impressive gains, such as:

  • Over £4 million in extra benefits income for residents over the past five years via our Financial Inclusion Team
  • Almost £1 million in additional benefits delivered by Citizens Advice and other local partners in the last two years
  • Greatly improved joint working with DWP and Job Centre Plus to support the more than 2,500 residents now receiving Universal Credit, people with complex needs and help with training and employment
  • Swifter and more streamlined action on rent arrears, which has seen current debts fall to 3.12% of annual rent receivable
  • Closer links with voluntary groups to safeguard vulnerable people and make the best use of our housing stock
  • Greater use of non-legal sanctions and injunctions for anti-social behaviour, with eviction as a last resort.

Doing more together

The scale and social impact of the homelessness crisis demands that we keep on seeking ways to do more. Collaboration is vital – from leasing properties to help local authorities meet their statutory duties to staff donating clothes, toiletries and other essentials to previously homeless people when they move in. Our teams also contribute to a lunchbox scheme, which makes sure that children get a decent midday meal during the school holidays. We’re supporting the National Housing Federation’s Hacking Homelessness project, which focuses on making better, data-driven decisions to prevent evictions. In one case, this monitoring showed that we contacted the resident 263 times to help them sustain their tenancy. And through case clinics, we constantly review how we could act differently or more quickly to help people achieve better outcomes.

We’re clear that it’s up to organisations like ours to take a lead, and believe that partnerships and imagination are the keys to success. We’re happy to share our experience and methods of what works for us, to free the next generation from the misery and blight of homelessness.

Christine Ashton 

Executive Director of Housing

emh group

How is your organisation putting the Homes for Cathy commitments into practice at operational level?  Share your ‘Good Practice’ story by downloading our template and emailing it to us at homesfor.cathy@hightownha.org.uk.

Helping homeless people access mental health support

Evidence shows that there is a significant link between homelessness and mental health problems.  According to Homeless Link, 80 per cent of homeless people in England reported that they had mental health issues, with 45 per cent having been diagnosed with a mental health condition.  Research by Homes for Cathy member Evolve points to childhood trauma as a contributory factor – its ‘Breaking the cycle of trauma report’ found that 80 per cent of homeless customers surveyed had suffered at least one childhood trauma. 

Mental health and homelessness can be a vicious circle, with homelessness causing mental health problems, and mental health problems often being the reason people become homeless.  Sadly, homeless people can face considerable barriers in terms of accessing the mental health services that could support them.  Many homeless people live with multiple and complex needs; this, combined with other factors such as the lack of a fixed address and even loss of confidence and self-esteem, can make it impossible for them to use traditional support systems.  

Research by another Homes for Cathy member, the homelessness charity St Mungo’s, reveals that many homeless people ‘fall through the gaps in legislation and local services’, the result of a shortfall in locally commissioned services that actively target their needs. 

Work is being done by Homes for Cathy members to address the issue.  Charity Evolve, which provides supported housing to homeless people across London, is raising funds to provide free, in-house, non-location specific counselling services to its customers, making mental health support easily accessible for those who need it.  According to its research, 76% of people who have accessed its service report better mental health and are more able to cope with life.   

Debra Ives, Head of Operations at Evolve, says: “Counselling is one of the best tools for dealing with trauma but it must be available quickly to have an impact. Our counselling is free, on site and available irrelevant of where the customer moves to.”

Evolve is putting clients’ mental health top of the agenda with in-house counselling services

Meanwhile, Hightown Housing Association’s Open Door homelessness service has partnered with local mental health providers Hertfordshire Mind Network and Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (HPFT), to deliver weekly support sessions direct to users of its shelter.

The scheme – announced to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May 2019) – will give the shelter’s service users direct access to care for mental health issues without the need to register with a GP, travel to appointments, or provide a fixed address and phone number. 

Carla Watson, Open Door Scheme Manager, comments: “Imagine you lose your job, a loved one dies and you don’t have any savings. You are evicted from your home and lose most of your possessions. You’re now sleeping rough or staying in a homeless shelter. It feels like you are losing control of your life, your mental health is at an all-time low but you lack the confidence and self-esteem to seek help.  You give up and accept things may never get better.”

“I saw first-hand how often this happens to some of the most vulnerable people in our society. At Open Door we decided that if things were going to change, we needed to persuade mental health services to come to us. The services are bookable and available on a one-to-one basis, but without a waiting list or the need to have fixed contact details. 

“Another way people can fall through the cracks in services is if they don’t have a phone number, they can’t get an appointment. When the sessions are held at Open Door, we can encourage and refer residents on their behalf.”

Carla Watson, Hightown Housing Association’s Open Door Scheme Manager has implemented in-house mental health support sessions

Mental health charity Hertfordshire Mind Network is now offering mental health drop-in sessions at Open Door once a week to help service users with issues such as anxiety, loneliness and isolation, depression, anger and loss, while NHS provider HPFT will also run standalone mental health support sessions. 

Carla adds: “It’s still early days but the appetite from residents to improve their mental health is there – we have had good attendance every week.

“This exercise has taught us a valuable lesson. If things aren’t working, be proactive, look for a solution and work in partnership with other organisations. Ultimately, it’s the people who matter most and we’re committed to fighting for their right to have the same opportunities as others to access vital services and improve their life.”