Holly Dagnall, NCHA Director of Homes and Wellbeing, tells us more about NCHA’s commitment to tackle homelessness:
“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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The 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:
To contribute to the development and execution of local authority homelessness strategies.
To operate flexible allocations and eligibility polices which allow individual applicants’ unique sets of circumstances and housing histories to be considered.
To offer constructive solutions to applicants who aren’t deemed eligible for an offer of a home.
To not make homeless any tenant seeking to prevent their homelessness (as defined in the Crisis plan).
To commit to meeting the needs of vulnerable tenant groups.
To work in partnership to provide a range of affordable housing options which meet the needs of all homeless people in their local communities.
To ensure that properties offered to homeless people are ready to move into.
To contribute to ending migrant homelessness in the areas housing associations operate.
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
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
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.
Vicky Husdon, is the Operations Manager at Open Door, a night shelter and daytime drop-in for vulnerable people in St Albans, as well as homelessness services in Hatfield. They are managed by Hightown Housing Association
Vicky Husdon, Operations Manager, Open Door
You’ve worked in the homeless sector for quite a while what changes have you seen?
I’ve been working in homelessness for 15 years now and the changes I’ve seen in the housing and homeless sector are massive. We’ve seen changes in benefits, massive reduction in grant funding for homelessness services, more affordable rents coming up for housing associations and local authorities offering less accommodation. Local Councils having to turn people away. Another important factor is there’s not enough money in the NHS for mental health services, so we are seeing more and more people who are profoundly unwell who are slipping through the net.
Can you expand on that?
At a time when we at our most advanced technologically, we are having to help people that, 10 or 15 years ago would have been in supported housing. They would have had mental health support. Whereas now they are not meeting the thresholds.
How many people have used the Open Door service and how has this changed over the last five years?
In 2013/14 we had 182 people using the night shelter, plus 175 referrals. By 2017/18, this was 144 using the night shelter but 277 referrals. As other homelessness services have closed down we are getting the brunt of the referrals. We are getting more referrals from prisons and probation trusts, than we used to have. Presumably, because there is less money available for supported accommodation for those coming out of prison. At least they are being offered the option of a night shelter, in this area. I went to a Homeless Link event recently, where I heard that prison leavers in one London borough, were being given sleeping bags and tents as a resettlement option.
Where are the referrals coming from?
A lot of people self-refer but the reason they self-refer is because the council can’t help them. The Homelessness Reduction Act hopefully means they will get a fair hearing and get the opportunity to present their case. Local authorities have a statutory duty to help these people but there isn’t always enough funding or housing stock available for them to help.
Local authorities need to absorb the spirit of the Act. It’s hard because there is still that gatekeeping attitude, with staff having worked in housing for 20 or 30 years, it’s a whole new mind-set that they need to adopt.
It’s was really interesting to hear Bob Blackam MP, at the Homes for Cathy conference say how within the first month of the Act being in force, that four people had been turned away by their local council but had challenged this. They had found the right organisation to help support them to challenge the decision and they were given accommodation.
How can housing associations can help?
Well, I think it’s great that Hightown’s got a Financial Inclusion Officer, to actually work on homeless prevention. There are people in social housing tenancies who would have previously had support from mental health services. They would have regularly been seeing care co-ordinators but now they don’t meet the thresholds for getting assistance. So they can end up getting into trouble and getting into arrears. If there’s no one there to guide them and support them through the current benefit system, then they end up in massive debt.
Having someone like Maureen, our Financial Inclusion Officer at Hightown, helps them manage their affairs, deal with their debt and navigate the complicated benefits system.
So dealing with debt is a major factor?
When I started working in homelessness, I was a Welfare Rights Advisor, for the first five years and then moved into Supported Housing but was also training people in Welfare Rights. There was a turning point when pay day loans came out. The number of people who have become homeless because they’ve got into tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt because they took out a couple of pay day loans, that they can never pay back. They are just trying to pay off the interest, month after month.
There’s not enough advisers out there now, with the cuts in funding to services like the Citizens Advice Bureau, to be able to help negotiate the benefits system so people give before they even start and end up in sanctions. Or they go to food banks, so having a Financial Inclusion Officer is a massive step forwards. Also having a floating support team who are funded by Herts County Council, help people stay in their homes. It’s also about housing officers actually looking out for the signs that someone is struggling to cope and referring them to appropriate support.
What more can be done?
By training housing officers on what to look out for, you might be able to address a behaviour before it leads to someone being evicted for arrears or anti-social behaviour.
Also, we have seen some cut backs in local Drugs & Alcohol services in the local area but we are trying to work on a solution. Carla, the scheme manger here, and I have been in contact with the organisation that provides the Drug and Alcohol support in this district and we are working on setting up a drop in support sessions, at Open Door. To work with clients from Kent, Martin House and from Oysterfields our floating support service. That’s what we are aiming for, sessions would be once a week or once a fortnight.
It’s not going to fix everything, they would still need to travel to access a doctor and get a prescription but there’s would be somebody here to build those partnerships.
Award-winning theatre company Cardboard Citizens has today announced Citizens Do, a grass-roots movement which aims to engage and empower everyday citizens to help tackle homelessness. The campaign has been gaining momentum over the past three months as Cardboard Citizens toured the UK with Cathy, working with audience members to collate suggestions on how the public can help people with experience of homelessness.
Inspired by Ken Loach and Jeremy Sandford’s ground-breaking film Cathy Come Home, Ali Taylor’s Cathy continued Cardboard Citizens’ exploration of the state of housing and homelessness. Based on true stories, the timely drama explored the impact of spiralling social housing costs, gentrification and the challenges of forced relocation through the compelling story of one family. Following each performance the cast discussed the issues raised in the play with audience members, asking for suggestions on how the general public could be empowered to make a difference and tackle homelessness.
During the three month tour, audience members were asked for their own ideas about how they can help the homeless. Over 1000 people so far have signed up for the movement and Cardboard Citizens is now calling on the general public to sign up by Wednesday 23 May at www.citizensdo.com or share their actions using #CitizensDo.
Adrian Jackson, Cardboard Citizens’ Artistic Director added: “After the grandeur of the House of Lords last year, we are excited to live up to our name and try seeing what we mere citizens can do to make the world a better place. It’s an exciting experiment in using theatre to mobilise people.”
Councils and charities frequently see housing associations as part of the problem when tackling homelessness and this must change, says David Bogle
The Homes for Cathy group of 71 housing associations has been working closely with the housing charity, Crisis, building up to the Homes for Cathy national conference on Monday, 30 April in London. Crisis is working on its Plan to End Homelessness and this will be previewed at the Homes for Cathy conference.There have been several joint workshops with Crisis and Homes for Cathy housing associations that are feeding into the Crisis plan, and eventually into a Homes for Cathy housing association plan or charter.
“Factors have combined to make housing associations more cautious and more inclined to introduce detailed pre-tenancy and affordability checks.”
However, the feedback from Crisis staff and case workers is that housing associations are frequently seen by local authorities and housing charities as being part of the problem when it comes to tackling homelessness locally; that housing associations are erecting barriers which sometimes prevent homeless families and homeless people being housed and sustaining a tenancy.
Perhaps rent cuts, benefit cuts, universal credit, housing support cuts, court delays and other factors have combined to make housing associations more cautious and more inclined to introduce detailed pre-tenancy and affordability checks.
But many housing associations were originally set up to house homeless people or poorly housed people and in response to previous housing crises.
As charities with the resources to house homeless people, we have to be working with the local authorities, who have the statutory responsibilities, and the local housing charities. We must be playing our part.
So what practical steps can housing associations take? Housing associations are already providing homes (temporary and permanent) and support for homeless people and clearly, in the medium and long term, there is the need to build more homes at rents that people can afford. But are there any short-term solutions that housing associations may offer to hard-pressed local authorities which have the Homelessness Reduction Actto implement? Can we purchase homes for shared housing? Can we set up social lettings agencies? Can we provide modular homes on any unused land? And can local authorities put aside some of the money they are spending on temporary accommodation to support such initiatives? Can health or crime budgets be used to provide even temporary support for homeless people if homes can be made available?
“The rising homelessness numbers are a national disgrace”
The Homes for Cathy group has argued that housing associations should be collecting and using information on, for instance, their lettings to homeless people and their evictions, to try to improve their practices and to examine whether safeguards and mitigations can be put in place to allow them to house and support more homeless people – perhaps with help from other agencies. As many people have observed, the rising homelessness numbers are a national disgrace and a personal disaster for those affected.
The government has made a commitment to halving rough sleeping numbers by 2022 and ending rough sleeping by 2027 and we wait to see what resources will be put behind this commitment.
But housing associations have to step up to the plate. This is about our social purpose. We all must examine what we are doing and do everything we can to increase our contribution.
Housing associations have to be seen as part of the solution to this national crisis not part of the problem. David Bogle, Chief Executive, Hightown Housing Association
David Bogle, Chief Executive, Hightown Housing Association
The Homes for Cathy group represents more than 50 housing associations that are gravely concerned about the numbers of homeless people in Britain today and are campaigning for more resources to be devoted to reducing these numbers and supporting those who are homeless.
We have been working on a Homes for Cathy action plan or statement of intent and have welcomed the opportunity to work with Crisis as it consults on its ‘plan to end homelessness’.
Homelessness places huge strains on our local and national public services. Shelter has recently estimated that 307,000 people are sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation in Britain – a rise of 13,000 in one year.
The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) is tasked with ensuring that “value for money is obtained from public investment in social housing”.
So in the Homes for Cathy group’s response to the HCA consultation on the Value For Money Standard, we argue that this duty should include measuring the contribution of housing associations to reducing the burden on local government, the NHS, the police and other public services and, in particular, to alleviating the plight of homeless people.
Because social value and social return on investment are more difficult to measure, it is tempting for value for money to be defined in terms of purely financial metrics, with no account taken of the level of services provided or of the type and tenure of the housing delivered.
“The current Value for Money Standard does not place sufficient emphasis on the duty of housing associations to house and support homeless people.”
The Homes for Cathy group has been concerned that the current Value for Money Standard does not place sufficient emphasis on the duty of housing associations to house and support homeless people who do not have the resources to resolve their housing problems through the private rented sector or through homeownership options including shared ownership.
The HCA consultation on the Value for Money Standard, the Chartered Institute of Housing’s ‘Rethinking Social Housing’ project and the consultation on the forthcoming Social Housing Green Paper are welcome opportunities to review the role of housing associations.
All the indications are that we now have a government that appreciates the huge contribution housing associations can and do make – not only to the national housebuilding programme but also to sustaining local communities and reducing the burden on public services.
So let us look beyond the financial metrics and see value for money in a wider context. Let us work with the regulator to develop standards that measure the social impact of the work of housing associations and the social return on the funding we receive directly or indirectly from government.
“Let us look beyond the financial metrics and see value for money in a wider context.”
It can be done. Last year, Hightown commissioned consultancy RSM to produce a social impact report using a European Commission-approved ‘principles for impact’ measurement to demonstrate the savings to the public sector (the NHS, the police, local government) from our homelessness services in St Albans.
Housing associations can collect statistics on the number of homeless families and homeless people who are housed each year. We can even collect figures for the number of evictions we carry out.
As housing associations, we should be judged primarily by what we do for people who are vulnerable, homeless or disabled. Let us try to measure those outcomes.
Two founders of Shepherds Bush Housing Group, with 170 years between them, returned to where they started the group, to mark the 50th anniversary of Cathy Come Home
Shepherds Bush Housing Group welcomed back two of its founding members as part of a series of events for Homes for Cathy.
The Rev John Asbridge, aged 90, former vicar of St Stephen’s Church in Shepherds Bush and his curate Wilfrid Wood, aged 80, who went on to become Britain’s first black bishop, were guests at an event to look at homelessness in 2016.
SBHG chief executive, Paul Doe, said: “It was a pleasure to see so many people who care about homelessness and who want to make a difference.
“It was a particularly pleasure to see John and Wilfred back where SBHG began almost 50 years ago. Both have kept the passion they had for making a difference in the world.”
The event at St Stephen’s Church included a Q&A and panel discussion on homelessness in 2016. The panel was made up of:
Andy Slaughter MP for Hammersmith and Shadow Minister for Housing and London
Cllr Stephen Cowan – leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council
Alison Mohammed – director of services at Shelter
Andy Slaughter said: “Almost all the indicators are showing a real growth in homelessness. Homelessness if not just street homelessness but it is about hidden homelessness.
“It’s about people who are living in entirely unsuitable conditions. Homelessness is on the increase but it’s on the agenda again thanks in part to the film’s anniversary and the newly published Homeless Reduction Bill.
“You can pass laws, you can give local authorities new duties but if you’re not actually resolving the supply crisis, then you are really putting on a sticking plaster.”
Alison Mohammed said: “Things have changed a great deal from 1966 but the human story remains the same. The slums have been cleared, we now have a legal safety net…but the shortage of social housing and insecurity in the private rented sector and unregulated private rents and inadequate benefits for social and private tenants mean the situation is still pretty bad.”
Cllr Steve Cowan talked of the need for genuinely affordable housing and paid tribute to the founders of the SBHG and said that homelessness was intolerable in 2016.
He said: “Everything we have inherited, we inherited because someone went out and fought for it. They built what they thought would be a better world.”
This November marked the 50th anniversary of Ken Loach’s gritty 1966 drama, Cathy Come Home. The film put British society under the microscope and changed the game forever.
To mark the occasion, Wandle has been hosting film screenings here in our office. The reaction, especially from many younger colleagues who had never seen the film before and are renting in the private sector, was one of disgust but also familiarity.
It is shocking, and a remarkable testament to the work housing associations and others still do, that so many of the film’s scenes still ring true with people today.
Wandle, like many other housing associations and homeless charities, were founded in the years following the film’s first broadcast. Capitalising on the shift in public and political attitudes, we set about creating a society that valued the provision of good quality, affordable homes and supporting those in desperate need.
In 1967, the Merton Family Housing Trust (Wandle’s original name) was formed by a group of local people who were concerned about homelessness and felt that is was possible to do something practical about it. They had a simple aim: to provide homes for homeless families, regardless of colour, language, race, or creed.
As our founding members said back in 1967: “HAVE NO DOUBT – the Merton Family Housing Trust really is needed” – a statement that is as true today as it was then.
50 years on, we face the greatest housing crisis since the end of the Second World War and it is housing associations who are coming together to tackle homelessness.
The Homes for Cathy Group, of which Wandle is proud to be part, is a national alliance of housing associations from across the UK helping to raise awareness of the needs of homeless people. The group will be hosting a series of events across the UK over the coming months, so keep an eye out.
Nowhere is the impact of homelessness more keenly felt than in London and as a south London housing association we want to do our bit to build the homes Londoner’s need. We’ve set out an ambitious plan to build 1,000 new homes by 2021 but we and other housing associations can and will do more, given the right ingredients.
The £3.15bn of funding for affordable housing in London is certainly a good start but, Britain’s housing crisis has been decades in the making and will require a long-term commitment from the Government if we’re going to build the thousands of homes we need and really tackle the growing issue of homelessness.
So, as we begin to wind down for the Christmas break remember: in Britain in 2016, 120,000 children will be homeless on Christmas day.
As was the case in 1967, we’re in the business of building homes, so let’s get on, and give Britain the homes that are so desperately needed.