HARP’s White Heather House – Women’s Only Hostel

Jackie Bliss, Chief Executive at HARP, Southend’s Homelessness Charity, reflects on the opening of their Women’s Only Hostel.

It is no secret that homelessness is on the rise.  Although HARP – the leading homelessness charity in Southend-on-Sea, Essex – has seen a reduction in long-term rough sleepers on our streets in recent years, the demand for our services continues to rise as more and more people find themselves facing homelessness.

Until the introduction of our women’s hostel just last year, HARP was providing accommodation for over 150 people every night – people that might otherwise be on the streets .  Now, we are able to accommodate up to 174 people thanks to our newest hostel: White Heather House.  But unlike any of our other services, or indeed anything else provided locally, White Heather House is a unique and innovative project that serves to do so much more than simply to provide a safe place to sleep for local women that have found themselves in crisis.

Around 25% of the people that we support are women, and they can often have a very different journey to their male counterparts.  Within the female homeless population, there are high levels of vulnerability, and the circumstances that lead up to women’s homelessness are often complex.  Many of the women who have experienced sleeping rough report having experienced abuse of some kind, and this will often lead them to look for ways to avoid sleeping on the streets.  It is this avoidance which further impacts their wellbeing, as they spend time “sofa surfing” or choose to remain in abusive relationships in order to retain a roof over their heads.

The introduction of our single-gender environment allows HARP to provide a less intimidating entry point to homeless services to these women, in a supportive and understanding environment.  Already, this is improving and broadening the support available, empowering women to make positive changes in their lives as well as providing peer support for them from other women who are equally experiencing the loneliness and isolation which so often results from homelessness.  Over the first six months following its opening, HARP’s White Heather House achieved a 73% improvement in outcomes for its residents compared with women in our mixed-gender accommodation.

For many, a disadvantaged upbringing and a dysfunctional family life can make working through the resultant turmoil extremely challenging.  By the time people arrive at HARP, crisis point has been reached and the journey back to a happy and healthy life can be daunting.  But with the support of our specialist team at White Heather House, working closely with other specialist local agencies, the road to recovery for women overcoming homelessness is being embraced in an environment which nurtures personal growth and development, and improves their life chances too.

Homelessness is a complex issue and whilst it has been well documented that there is a shortage of affordable housing and a rise in the cost of living – particularly in Southend-on-Sea where high costs of housing collide with relatively low average rates of take-home pay – these are often just the catalysts for becoming homeless.  There is generally a multitude of underlying issues that build up over time and, without confronting these, finding and being able to sustain accommodation is unlikely to happen for many.  This is why, at HARP, we take a proactive approach to making positive change for all our clients, encouraging all who use our service to access a variety of support networks that collectively will help them to regain their independence.

These pathways include:

  • liaison with private sector landlords
  • the provision of a varied programme of meaningful activities for service users, designed to improve their self-esteem, confidence and self-awareness
  • training opportunities to boost employability
  • addiction therapy to tackle any alcohol or substance misuse
  • access to medical services
  • provision of hot, nutritious meals
  • shower, washing and laundry facilities
  • and, of course, a friendly ear for when the journey feels too tough.

It is this holistic approach to tackling homelessness that empowers the people we work with to overcome their personal issues and to move on successfully.

Photo 3 - Heather Mills at WHH - web ready.jpg

In April this year we were joined by media personality, businesswoman and activist Heather Mills, who officially opened White Heather House and spent time talking to our residents there about her own recovery, following a period of homelessness in her youth.  These women were thrilled that someone so successful would take the time to visit and talk with them, and many reported afterwards how inspired they had felt by the passionate account Heather had given about her own journey.

It is our mission at HARP to support people facing homelessness to not just find a new home, but to work with them to break down the barriers which are preventing them from overcoming homelessness.  Now, our new women’s hostel at White Heather House is empowering more local women to realise their potential and to follow a structured and supported pathway to a meaningful and successful future.

 

Spending the night in a cardboard box is the least we can do

Sarah Boast, from MHS Homes Group, tells us how spending a night sleeping rough changed her perspective on homelessness.

When my colleague first pitched the idea of sleeping in a card board box in our car park next to the open river for 12 hours in January, I can’t say I leapt for joy.

But I signed up nonetheless, sure it would be totally eye-opening and insightful, hopeful to raise lots of money and support for a Kent homeless charity, Porchlight.

And it was completely shocking.

I’ve never felt so vulnerable. Though tucked up very tightly in my sleeping bag and box, I still felt scared, knowing those two items were all that protected me from the outside world, its elements, a fox that was lurking nearby and plenty of river rats.

I’d heard the horrors but never realised how exposed and susceptible people who are homeless actually are.

And we had it easy – with palettes, cardboard and soup all donated to us from lots of local companies.

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We also had the support of one another. About 50 of us took part in the event, spurring each other on and making what seemed like an unbearable challenge somewhat easier.

But imagine what it’s like to not have anyone. No family, no support network around you. So lonely that you must ask for help on the streets and passers by don’t even want to look at you.

That’s why we, at mhs homes, host a Big Sleep Out every other year in winter – to raise funds and awareness and to support a local homeless charity. This year we supported Porchlight and raised more than £10,000.

Porchlight allows people to escape the misery of the streets and begin to recover from the damaging effects of homelessness. It gives people support with their mental health and wellbeing, and helps them get back into education or employment. It also works with people who are at risk of becoming homeless and need help to stay on track”, said Chris Thomas, Communicatins Co-ordinator at the Canterbury-based charity.

I’m unbelievably proud to work for a housing association that does so much to support local charities and local people too.

The Big Sleep Out always gets lots of support from local businesses, councillors and politicians.

This year we had several stakeholders take part as well as three councillors and MP Tracey Crouch, who had just been appointed as minister for loneliness.

At the time of the event Government had just committed funding to tackle the problem of rough sleeping but I questioned if it’d go far enough to tackle the housing crisis, at a time when Shelter estimated 300,000 people in Great Britain sleeping rough.

According to Porchlight, homelessness in Kent rose 38% in the past year. It’s the seventh year in a row homelessness has increased across the county.

We’re pledging to build at least 600 homes over the next three years and will continue to work closely with our partners and local authorities to ensure that we do all we can to prevent homelessness.

The Big Sleep Out was challenging but completely eye-opening. It’s the very least we can do.

If you’d like to find out more about our Big Sleep Out, what we do or to donate email communications@mhs.org.uk.

Thank you.

 

How can we end homelessness in Britain?

Holly Dagnall, NCHA Director of Homes and Wellbeing, tells us more about NCHA’s commitment to tackle homelessness:

Holly Dagnall“Homelessness and the threat of eviction, particularly from the increasing rents of the private rented sector and pressure from changes in the benefits system are completely unacceptable. With current stats showing that the average lifespan of a rough sleeper is just 47 years old and 160,000 households are currently experiencing the worst forms of homelessness, it’s clear that we need to work together as a sector to do more to support society’s most vulnerable.
“At NCHA, we’re determined to do our bit, recently publishing our Homes for Cathy document, which reinforces our commitment to the Homes for Cathy group and outlines some of the work we currently do to tackle homelessness in the East Midlands.

“Here are some of the ways in which we’re currently helping by:

  • reviewing our Allocations Policy alongside our offer of tenancy support to reduce the number of households excluded from being allocated an NCHA property.
  • providing temporary accommodation and resettlement support for households experiencing homelessness in Nottingham City, Loughborough, Derbyshire and Leicester City.
  • recognising that lifting people out of poverty is the key to preventing homelessness. This year we will review the provision of our tenancy support services across the Homes and Wellbeing Department. We have a range of support for people experiencing problems and provide tenancy support and debt advice for our social and affordable housing customers alongside our specialist homelessness support. We also provide a welfare fund and an employability project – working to help people to secure better paid employment.
  • reviewing our policy and practice on evictions, ensuring consistent practice across the Homes and Wellbeing Department from a ‘support then enforce’ perspective.
  • working with the National Housing Federation regarding the Homelessness Reduction Act and having a commitment to working with local authorities on the ‘Duty to Refer’ for households facing eviction.

“Homelessness is a human emergency, but ending it is not an impossible task if we’re committed to do what’s necessary.”

NCHA is a Homes for Cathy member.

Starting afresh: Getting help to furnish your new home.

It’s tough furnishing your first home, especially when it might be your first home after experiencing homelessness. You may be offered a property but then have to find carpets, furniture and white goods all before you can really live there. You may even be tempted to return to your hostel or night-shelter, where you had a furnished room.

If you need a starting point, you will find a list of organisations below, that can help people get started in their new home.

Emmaus

Emmaus furniture

Emmaus are a charity that help homeless people in a number of way, from places to stay to running social enterprises that allows someone to learn new skills. They have a number shops across England, Scotland and Wales, selling furniture, electrical items and clothing.  New stock arrives daily and they can arrange local delivery for large items.

Find your local store

Turn2us

Turn2us is a national charity helping people when time are hard. They have a benefits calculators and grants finder on their website, which could help you get access to some charitable funds.

Go to the grant finder 

The Eaton fund

The Eaton Fund can help women over the age of 18 who face financial hardship, within the UK.

The Eaton Fund can make one-off grants to help purchase specific items such as white goods, carpets or essential furniture.  They also help disabled women by contributing towards an item that improves quality of life or independence.

More information about the grant

Freecycle

Freecycle is a website that allows people to posts their requests or offers for free to their local group. It’s a great place to start if you’re looking for cardboard packing boxes, since people are often giving away the ones they used for their move. If you search and check daily, you could also bag yourself free sofa, table or chairs.  Or you can post a request if you are looking for something specific.

Find you local Freecycle group

British Heart Foundation

The British Heart Foundation have  over 170 Furniture and Electrical stores across the UK selling sofas, white goods, dining sets, beds plus other items at very reasonable prices.

Find your local BHF Furniture and Electrical store

Facebook Marketplace

Facebook have a dedicated area to buy and sell your unwanted items, it’s called Marketplace. You can filter to find items in your local area and contact the sellers via Facebook.

Look for the  Facebook FB Marketplace icon on FB menu to see local second-hand items for sale.

Visit FB Marketplace

Facebook Community groups

It’s also worth searching for local groups on Facebook to see if people are selling things second-hand. Or place a post requesting something, someone may come back to you offering to help.

Gumtree

Lots of people use Gumtree to sell their second-hand items. It’s worth taking a look and you can filter by location.

Visit Gumtree 

A final bit of advice is to always be careful when using selling websites, to avoid being scammed. Gumtree have provided some tips here, Staying Safe-in-For-Sale .

 

Written by Nicola Emmett for the Homes for Cathy blog.

 

Sign up to nine commitments to reduce homelessness

Welcome David BThe Homes for Cathy group is calling on housing associations to sign up to nine commitments that could make a “major impact” on homelessness, explains David Bogle, Chief Executive of Hightown Housing Association.

There is a homelessness crisis going on. At the last count there were almost 160,000 homeless households in Great Britain, including more than 9,000 people rough sleeping and 42,000 in emergency accommodation.

Housing associations must do more, much more to reduce these numbers – that is the central message of the Homes for Cathy group of housing associations.

That is why, working with housing charity Crisis, the Homes for Cathy group has come up with nine commitments which we are asking our members to achieve and which we believe could make a real major impact on homelessness. These are:

  1. To contribute to the development and execution of local authority homelessness strategies.
  2. To operate flexible allocations and eligibility polices which allow individual applicants’ unique sets of circumstances and housing histories to be considered.
  3. To offer constructive solutions to applicants who aren’t deemed eligible for an offer of a home.
  4. To not make homeless any tenant seeking to prevent their homelessness (as defined in the Crisis plan).
  5. To commit to meeting the needs of vulnerable tenant groups.
  6. To work in partnership to provide a range of affordable housing options which meet the needs of all homeless people in their local communities.
  7. To ensure that properties offered to homeless people are ready to move into.
  8. To contribute to ending migrant homelessness in the areas housing associations operate.
  9. To lobby, challenge and inspire others to support ending homelessness
    Many of these commitments are challenging.

Our hard-working housing management staff will be throwing their hands up at some of them.

We are calling them ‘aspirational’. We are suggesting that they be used as a tool to develop policies and practices. To deliver the nine commitments, most housing associations will need to find more resources. But housing associations have resources.

Although many housing associations have been providing excellent homes and services for homeless people for decades, it is plainly not enough. Yet the relief of homelessness has to be central to our social purpose. So can we accept an ongoing responsibility for the families whose tenancy has failed so as to ensure that they are not evicted into homelessness?

“The relief of homelessness has to be central to our social purpose.”

Can we provide furniture, curtains and carpets for those homeless people who we house who cannot provide them themselves?

Can we do more for those homeless people who we turn down because they don’t meet the qualifications for our homes?

Can we build or acquire more homes for homeless people?

Can we make a real impact on rough sleeping by working with local authorities to provide some homes for migrant workers even where they have no recourse to public funds?

For most housing associations, the answer to these questions must be “yes, we can” – if there is sufficient will and sufficient resources are allocated.We owe it to the tens of thousands of homeless families and rough sleepers to step up our efforts.These nine Homes for Cathy commitments are a starting point.

This blog was first published in Inside Housing, 10th July 2018

To stop the doors revolving for homeless people a wide range of needs must be met

After witnessing adults returning to his association’s temporary accommodation scheme who had lived there as children, Tony Stacey calls on the sector to address poverty and homelessness

David B, Chris H, Tony S
I have worked as South Yorkshire Housing Association’s (SYHA) chief executive for 23 years now. For the whole time – in fact since it was founded 45 years ago – SYHA has focused on addressing homelessness. Other things too, but homelessness has always been high up on our radar.

“I like to think I am pretty well in touch with the situation locally. But nothing prepared me for this.”

Last week, I was told by our LiveWell support team that we are now regularly seeing new customers for two of our temporary accommodation schemes in Sheffield – used by the council as an alternative to B&B referrals – who had lived there as children.

The accommodation is a good standard – in fact when Jon Rouse led the Homes and Communities Agency, he described one of our projects as the best designed scheme he had visited that year. Nevertheless, we now find ourselves managing an across-the-generations revolving door. And I am not talking about one or two families, this is now a regular occurrence.

Our response to this, for me, reinforces our answer to the SYHA ‘why?’ question, which is: “With SYHA you can settle at home live well and realise your potential.” Think whole person, think whole place. And we do.

I hear a lot about how associations are sweating their assets, but less about how they stretch themselves to offer choices to customers which can get them out of poverty and break this vicious cycle. Shouldn’t our stretch extend to addressing homelessness and poverty?

We have just had our Regulator of Social Housing in-depth assessment. The conclusion was: “Goodness, you people are really going for it.”

One of many things housing associations, GP practices and NHS Trusts have in common is that we’re rooted in the communities worst affected by health-related unemployment. We work in them, get sick and get better in them, and raise our families there. Achieving fairness in employment outcomes for people with physical and mental health conditions is therefore our fight too.

A good job is a healthy outcome. The healthier we are, the more resilient we are. The more resilient we are, the less we are likely to slide into homelessness.

Tony Stacey, chief executive, South Yorkshire Housing Association

This blog was first published on Inside Housing on 14/6/18