Category Archives: Homes for Cathy Blog

The value of cross-sector collaboration to improve health outcomes for homeless people

The link between homelessness and poor health is well documented, with data indicating that the number of A&E visits and hospital admissions per homeless person is four times higher than for the general public.  But what part can housing associations play in breaking that link?

Homes for Cathy recently caught up with Rebecca Whittle, Neighbourhoods Strategic Lead at ForHousing, to find out more about its new housing-led ‘Homeless Discharge Support’ pilot, a collaborative project with Salford Primary Care Together (SPCT), Salford City Council, Greater Manchester Housing and Social Care Partnership and Greater Manchester Mental Health Service that aims to improve health outcomes for rough sleepers leaving hospital.

There’s clear evidence that good quality housing is not only critical for good health but also reduces demand for NHS services, so it’s great to see an example of joined up working between housing and health providers. How did the partnership with SPCT come about?

The initial idea came from discussions with the GP Clinical Lead for the SPCT Inclusion Service, Dr Wan-Ley Yeung, who provides a GP inclusion service for homeless patients within Salford.  We were both concerned that individuals were being discharged from hospital and weren’t engaging with ongoing medical treatment, because they were either returning to the streets or being placed into temporary accommodation which wasn’t wholly suitable given their on-going medical needs.  

We’re quite fortunate in Salford in terms of homelessness provision; Reducing homelessness is a priority for Salford City Council and they are very successful in attracting government funding to end homelessness, with lots of different initiatives in place to prevent people from having no option other than to sleep on the streets.  What’s important is that we make sure that the provision is suitable for all individuals.  In the past, people with no fixed abode and ongoing medical needs would have either been unable to be discharged from hospital, or picked up by the local authority and put in a provision that wasn’t entirely suitable for their ongoing medical treatment and rehabilitation.

In partnership with SPCT and Salford City Council’s associated departments including adult social care, housing options and supported tenancies, we successfully applied for funding through Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership to the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) shared outcomes fund.  We were awarded approximately £450,000, which covers accommodation costs as well as a support element.

The whole concept is to take a test and learn approach to inform future commissioning and future service delivery, to ensure safe discharge from Salford Royal Hospital for those people that are either;

  • medically optimised  for discharge  but would be returning to the streets or
  •  going to accommodation that wouldn’t be able to meet their needs adequately or
  • For those who are medically fit for discharge but have ongoing health needs requiring further clinical support

How is the scheme working in practice?

ForHousing is the landlord and we are providing eight self-contained properties that are all accessible for individuals with mobility difficulties.  The aim is not only that individuals can be safe within that accommodation but that we can work closely with them for a greater chance of securing settled accommodation. Health, social care and housing services work closely in partnership to provide wrap around intensive support for each person to improve their health outcomes and also their life skills and tenancy skills, so they have more likelihood of being able to move on to more secure, permanent accommodation in the long term.

In terms of the support, there’s a dedicated housing support officer for the eight properties and they work alongside Salford City Council’s Supported Housing Service who provide two dedicated support workers to support the individuals both in this accommodation and in their future move on home.  The reason why we’ve taken that combined approach is we know it’s really important to have the engagement of housing options for move-on to suitable long-term housing.  They have access to a full range of accommodation, particularly if that individual has aspirations to move to a locality where ForHousing doesn’t have properties.

With regards to move-on, there’s a guiding principle of three months but all the partners are extremely committed to the fundamental principle that the service priority is about supporting individuals, so we won’t necessarily be working to timescales – ultimately we need to go at the individual’s own pace.  We’ve also been very clear from the outset that if a tenant moves into a property, develops a really good support network within the local community and is thriving where they are, we won’t uproot them to another area for long-term housing.  We’ll convert the accommodation into a general needs tenancy and identify another property to bring into the scheme.

Are there any particular barriers that you have had to overcome in setting up the scheme?

It’s still very early days but one difficulty has been around the availability of social care support in the community.  There have been situations where people were medically ready to be discharged, and we had a home available for them, but the care support wasn’t in place, so the person was effectively classified as a delayed discharge.  It’s for this reason that the pilot is being evaluated by King’s College London, in order to inform further research into the delays in hospital discharge that are occurring nationally.

The launch of integrated care systems (ICSs) in 2018 was intended to deepen the relationship between NHS, local councils and other strategic partners.  How easy has it been for you to get housing’s voice heard in local health commissioning?

For a number of years it’s been quite difficult for us to get engagement with health partners; it’s taken a lot of tenacity, banging on doors and literally turning up to every event possible saying ‘Hi, we’re here’.  Ultimately, this project has come about through our shared passion for supporting people.  SPCT recognises that, as an organisation, ForHousing is really committed to ending homelessness; consequently, they see us as an equal partner.  We’re open to exploring opportunities and taking risks, and because SPCT can see our passion, they’ve been happy to bring us along on the journey.

What advice would you give to other Homes for Cathy members seeking to forge stronger partnerships with their local health agencies?

As an organisation, ForHousing is quite bold in the way we articulate our ambition around wellbeing; social housing is not just about bricks and mortar, it’s about improving people’s lives.  We’re not a housing association that gives people a set of keys and only contacts them when they need to pay their rent.  Because we articulate our vision and are prepared to take risks, other agencies such as health are willing to partner with us.  We’re also open to the fact that sometimes things won’t always work; the key is to learn and adapt from that.

Find out more about how the Discharge to Assess scheme has helped Tom here.


ForHousing is a progressive landlord that owns and manages more than 24,000 homes and delivers housing management services for other landlords across the North West.

Tackling migrant homelessness: A call for innovation and collaboration

Ahead of 2021 International Migrants Day on 18 December, Katie Fawcett and Paul Catterill, Network Development Coordinators at NACCOM, explain how the network supports housing associations to collaborate on innovative projects to prevent destitution among people seeking asylum in the UK

The potential for housing associations to play an important role in helping to end homelessness experienced by people under immigration control has always been an area of interest and exploration for NACCOM and our members.  In February 2020, before the world was gripped by the Covid-19 pandemic, we jointly hosted the Ending Migrant Homelessness conference in York with Crisis and Homes for Cathy.

Addressing Homes for Cathy’s eighth commitment

This provided a springboard for the development of a number of new relationships between housing associations and NACCOM members, working together through a joint desire to address homelessness in the asylum and immigration system and in many cases specifically to address the Homes for Cathy Commitment 8 “to contribute to ending migrant homelessness in areas where housing associations operate”.

Over the past year, data gathered through NACCOM’s annual members’ survey has revealed that 2,771 people were accommodated across the NACCOM network between April 2020 and June 2021. 1,503 (54%) of people were housed (NACCOM projects include housing, hosting and night shelters) across 363 properties, 37 (10%) of which were provided by 21 housing associations across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, including seven from Homes for Cathy members.

Accommodation models vary

Accommodation models vary and include difficult to let properties (because of size and bedroom tax) being converted to HMOs and made available rent-free specifically for the housing of people with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).  In addition, there are new supported housing initiatives where newly granted refugees at risk of homelessness are housed, with the income generated enabling beds to be made available to people seeking asylum with NRPF whilst they are supported to regularise their immigration status.

Covid-19 has obviously created challenges to the momentum of this work, however in 2021, several further opportunities presented themselves to continue our collective efforts of raising awareness around destitution and homelessness in the asylum system and exploring ways that housing associations can make a positive impact.

Firstly, Homes for Cathy joined Bradford-based NACCOM member Hope Housing in delivering a Homelessness Summit to discuss ‘what next after Everyone In ends’. This was followed by an Ending Destitution event in Calderdale, working with another NACCOM member St Augustine’s to promote and explore partnership approaches for developing NRPF accommodation in the borough.

NACCOM’s Network Development team also presented at the Homes for Cathy ‘Ending Migrant Homelessness’ forum in September, which brought together over 61 housing associations, charities and other agencies to hear about innovative ideas and responses to accommodation solutions for people with NRPF.

Our collective work will continue in 2022 and will be an important consideration when NACCOM launches its new strategy in spring next year. Further challenges presented by the Nationality and Borders Bill and ongoing Covid-19 crisis will undoubtedly require innovative and collaborative responses from the sector to end homelessness for people in the asylum and immigration system, and we look forward to being part of the response.


NACCOM – the No Accommodation Network – is a charity committed to bringing an end to destitution amongst people seeking asylum, refugees and migrants with no recourse to public funds living in the UK, through promoting best practice and supporting the establishment of accommodation projects.  For more information, email office@naccom.org.uk.

We’re often told by housing associations that they deliver what we do already. Here’s why they don’t and how we bring value to their offer

Rebecca White, CEO and founder of Your Own Place, explains how partnering with an external tenancy training provider can amplify a housing association’s existing support offer to prevent homelessness

Your Own Place turned eight in October.  Both a huge milestone and a source of great pride.  What is often unseen beneath the veneer of glossy social media, is the knock backs, the failures, the disappointments and frustrations – especially when I’m told ‘we do that already’. 

We have grown modestly, safely and sustainably, partly out of choice and partly because what we do is hard, different, bespoke, time-consuming and we’ve an unwavering commitment to doing it right and very well.  Continuing in this modest vein is almost comfortable right up until the point when I ponder the phenomenal difference we make beyond our great outcomes and numbers.  More people deserve to benefit from it!

Like many, Covid19 threw a curveball opportunity that has neither fundamentally changed us nor endangered us.  This is because our mission and vision were always clear – to prevent homelessness. The team is as strong as they have ever been, their ideas are getting away from me (in a good way) and our digital transformation (and I mean every letter of that second word) was all their work.

Amplifying existing housing association support

Our current brilliant housing association customers recognise the strength of their own offer alongside how it can be boosted by partnering with us. When we start a partnership we equip housing teams with the knowledge about our service and how it’s different – and also complementary.  Together we are able to further develop the skills, knowledge and confidence of your tenants alongside your offer.  With our delivery of tenancy sustainment workshops (TILS+ and DigiTILS+) we provide the space for tenants to reflect on what they have heard from their housing support officer or income officer.  Together, trainees in a group find their voice with us as an independent organisation.  They find themselves able to share their knowledge of the support they have received as well as their new skills. In so doing, the support your teams are providing already is amplified. Hearing from peer tenants about what support they have accessed and found useful as well as hearing the same content from a different voice in a different way boosts what you are doing already. This reinforces the messages that housing associations are already investing so much in.

Whether it’s income teams, benefits or money advice or even getting to the point of eviction, the support we see many housing associations offer often faces huge challenges of reaching people in difficult situations and often already in crisis. Ours is a prevention offer that can both prevent a crisis happening (freeing up your team’s time) or build the skills of the tenant to resolve the situation themselves (building resilience for the future and also freeing up staff time). These are not simply life skills, but skills for life.  They equip people to go further than simply resolving their money worries or tenancy responsibilities, but to consider enrolling at college, finding work, or simply leaving their room for the first time.

Partnership approach

We’re often told by housing associations that they deliver what we do already.  What we see are housing associations doing phenomenal work around advice and sustainment work that can be enhanced by a partnership. Here’s the value we can bring to that work:

FREEING UP YOUR STAFF TIME

  • Through facilitation rather than advice or 1-2-1 crisis support, we ensure the trainee residents not only gain the new knowledge, skills and confidence to sustain their tenancy, but develop the longer term skills of realising they have the skills needed to get help and find their own solutions.  All this means there is less pressure on your teams as trainees become more inter-dependent and resilient.

REINFORCING YOUR MESSAGES

  • Like many housing associations, you’re as committed to tenancy support as we are.  We also know that our delivery style will be different to yours.  To take information on board and change behaviour the human brain has to hear things multiple times in multiple ways – by attending our workshops we reinforce your messages.

GROUP WORK & PEER LEARNING

  • We know how hard it can be to get groups of residents together and yet we know how powerful the peer group can be.  As experts in their own lives, our group workshops offer the space to reflect on the support they may have had from you already, support each other and gain the confidence to act on your advice. This is our area of expertise and strengthened by being an independent organisation. It builds connections and inter-dependence and the confidence to engage with other group interventions (college or training courses and volunteering etc).

INDEPENDENCE

  • Our independence as an external organisation is a huge strength and enables us to hear the voice of the resident that is sometimes silent.  We can work with them and with you during our interventions to understand how they receive your service and include this in our impact reports for you.

Your Own Place exists to prevent homelessness by ensuring people have the skills to sustain a tenancy. For more information about the services it provides, contact rebecca@yourownplace.org.uk

Supporting Survivors: How tackling domestic abuse helps us deliver on the Homes for Cathy Commitments

By Iain Turner, Corporate Compliance Manager at Wandle

Wandle is a founding member of Homes for Cathy and, like many other members, was set-up in the 1960’s in response to concerns about rising levels of homelessness. Our founding members wanted to provide homes for families in desperate need of the stability and security a good home brings. Over 50 years on, that aim hasn’t changed, and we are still working to try and end homelessness, by providing safe and affordable homes in South London.

Few people will value a safe and secure home more than a survivor of domestic abuse. Under our long-term strategic plan, we began a project in 2019 to overhaul our approach to domestic abuse. Our aim is to achieve accreditation from the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) – an organisation which is driving a step change in tackling domestic abuse across the social housing sector.

Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales. It’s an issue that can impact anyone, from any walk of life – regardless of gender, sexuality, class or race. Ian Wright’s recent documentary about growing up with an abusive father shone a light on the long-term impact it can have on children and grown men too.  According to research by homelessness charity St Mungo’s, 32 per cent of homeless women said domestic abuse contributed to their homelessness.

My experience leading our project

Our domestic abuse project is sponsored by our Chief Executive, Tracey Lees, who has been passionately talking about the subject for as long as I’ve been at Wandle. When Tracey asked me to be the project lead I was surprised. I was Wandle’s Policy Officer at the time, working in the Governance Team. I have no hands-on housing management experience, no lived experience of domestic abuse, and had very little knowledge or expertise on the subject.

Fast forward almost three years I’m a trained domestic abuse champion, I’ve attended countless webinars and learned more than I could have imagined about the impact of abuse and how housing providers can support survivors. It’s been emotionally draining at times, but I’ve learned to openly talk about the subject, regardless of whether it might make some people feel uncomfortable (while being mindful of the impact this can have on those who have witnessed or lived through abuse). It’s an uncomfortable topic but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it.

Supporting our staff

One of the key changes we have made at Wandle is to acknowledge that anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of abuse. It’s not something that affects just our residents – it’s something many of our colleagues will live with too. Many providers may think just about their residents when addressing domestic abuse – and that’s the approach we initially were taking – but this changed when we made contact with Hestia and went through their ‘Everyone’s Business’ programme. Hestia worked with us to develop an employee focus policy, raise awareness and train managers and a group of champions in how to support colleagues who may be enduring abuse or supporting someone who is. This work has obviously helped inform our approach for residents too but having a separate policy has really helped us make clear to staff that support is there if they need it.

Meeting our commitments

So, how does our focus on supporting survivors of domestic abuse link to our work as Homes for Cathy members? We have signed up to the nine commitments, one of which is meeting the needs of vulnerable tenant groups. Given that potentially one in three of our female tenants will endure domestic abuse in their lifetime, we know that tackling domestic abuse certainly helps us towards meeting that commitment. There are numerous ways we can do this, whether it’s transferring someone to a property away from their abuser or putting extra security in place to keep someone safe in their home. Even just signposting to other support services can be a vital first step.

There is still work to do, but we’ve definitely started seeing the benefits of our new approach. We have unfortunately seen a rise in cases since the pandemic hit, but we’ve also provided more support to survivors than ever. We have numerous examples of our Housing Team going out of their way to support survivors, even arranging removals in the dead of night so that a young parent could move without her abuser knowing. We are offering smart doorbells to survivors so they can see who’s at their door and we have a new online web app, developed by Hestia and the Post Office. This signposts to local and national resources, while leaving no internet history, which might otherwise be found by abusers.

Most importantly our automatic response is to believe anyone who tells us they are enduring abuse and will investigate any reports of potential concerns. There’s no doubt that tackling domestic abuse can help Homes for Cathy members meet their commitments, sustain tenancies, and most importantly save lives.

Iain Turner, Corporate Compliance Manager, Wandle


Wandle is a founding member of the Homes for Cathy group. Founded in 1967 as the Merton Family Housing Trust, it has since grown into an organisation with over 7,000 homes across nine south London boroughs.

A psychologically informed approach to supporting young people out of homelessness

Trauma informed care and a psychologically informed environment can support young people at risk of homelessness on their journey towards independence, writes Spiros Georgiou, Supported Housing Operations Manager at Homes for Cathy member Hightown Housing Association.

During the past year the homelessness crisis has seen new challenges. Covid-19 has exacerbated some of the disadvantages faced by people, with family tensions, loss of jobs and income and mental ill health being key drivers for homelessness.  Evidence shows that experience of trauma can lead to homelessness and losing your home and becoming homeless can be very traumatic. 

There is also evidence of the strong link between homelessness and adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse, neglect and domestic violence.  People who have experienced trauma can be left feeling helpless and terrified.  They often feel a lack of control and a sense of unpredictability, a loss of safety and, in the worst case scenarios, a fear of serious harm or death.  Trauma is defined by the experience of the individual and not the event, so not everyone who experiences trauma will develop chronic symptoms – it depends on their resilience.  What we do know is that early childhood has more of an effect than experiencing trauma as an adult.

Preparing young people for an independent, self-sufficient life

At Hightown, we identified the need for us to take a more trauma informed approach in our young people’s care and supported housing service. The service provides semi-independent living for young people aged 16-24 who may have left care or become estranged from family and are at a high risk of homelessness.  Our goal with the service is to prepare our young people for an independent, self-sufficient life.  We believed that by implementing a psychologically informed environment (PIE) – that was sensitive to their emotional needs – we could overcome some of the barriers that were impeding their journey to independence. 

It was the start of a significant learning curve for the team, requiring us to consider the thinking, emotions, personalities and past experiences of service users and adapt the design and delivery of the service to meet their needs.  Importantly, it also helped us gain a deeper insight into our own personal attitudes and beliefs and reaffirmed our faith in our service users’ ability to change.

In practice, adopting a PIE approach meant support workers building a therapeutic relationship with service users, which involved being non-judgmental, validating individuals’ emotions and feelings and helping them create a safe environment.  It also meant taking the time to understand the past traumas our service users may have experienced and understanding how this may affect their boundaries, their relationships with others and their sense of safety.

Direct impact on evictions and abandonments

Being trauma informed has had a direct impact on the warnings we give out and ultimately on evictions and abandonments, as we are able to find alternative ways to promote a change in behaviour that might otherwise put a tenancy at risk.  In our young people’s housing, we meet weekly as a team to discuss creative and flexible ways to find what works for the individual when it comes to escalating needs and risks.  For example, when an incident occurs, staff deal with the immediate event, before allowing time for individuals to reflect on the incident and come up with personalised and co-produced response.  This may mean that instead of issuing a generic warning – which can be overused or even misused – we provide a support intervention to address the issues at play. 

Most recently, we had a service user who repeatedly refused us access to their property for maintenance works.  They would either become extremely distressed and angry when the staff visited or would prepare for the visit, then self-harm and refuse access.  Instead of issuing a warning, we worked with them as a team to understand and validate the way they were feeling, so that we could build trust and help them feel safe.  We began to look at why they had become homeless in the first place and learned that they had witnessed domestic violence in the home as a child, for which they had never received appropriate support.  We quickly understood that they were becoming overwhelmed with emotion and fear during each visit, triggering a fight or flight response, and their coping strategy was either to become angry or self-harm.  Instead of asserting our authority, we personalised our response, empowering them to access therapy and coaching for their anger, as well as facilitating regular visits from the community mental health team.  We also introduced them to one of our maintenance workers and supported them to build a trusting and professional relationship with that person, so the works could take place.

We have also recently launched a new way of dealing with substance misuse, in response to an ongoing issue around the use of cannabis amongst young people in the scheme.  In the past, this was dealt with by the traditional warnings system.  However, we found that the young people were soon exhausting the warning system and were therefore at risk of eviction and sometimes even evicted as a result, which is something we wanted to avoid.

Traffic light warnings for substance misuse

We know that using illegal substances can be a coping mechanism to deal with stress or emotionally distressing thoughts and/or childhood adversity and unresolved complex trauma. However, we also know that the use of illegal drugs in our services can be problematic, as we have a duty of care to all service users and staff.  Instead, we created a traffic light system for substance misuse, the idea being that before we issue a formal warning that indicates the tenancy is at risk (and could ultimately lead to an eviction), we put in place a tiered support intervention first.

The traffic light system has various support actions and interventions to explore at each stage, for example understanding the young person’s substance misuse habits and patterns through workbooks and surveys, organising support meetings with any professionals involved, referring the young person to drug and alcohol agencies in the community, engaging the young person in meaningful activity, goal setting and support to reach aspirations, facilitating contact with community mental health team, counselling and much more.  Since launching the traffic light system, we have only had one young person reach the amber card stage and no young people reach the red card stage, and there has been a dramatic decrease in substance misuse related incidents.  In addition to this, our young people have engaged really well with the support interventions and benefited from the change in approach.

A PIE approach is not only about being sensitive to the emotional needs of service users; working in homelessness services can sometimes result in staff experiencing secondary trauma, where they are themselves affected by what they see and hear from service users.  Ultimately this can lead to burnout and staff feeling hopeless, depressed, stressed, uncreative and frustrated in their roles.  We therefore actively invite staff members to ask for help if they need it and build in time to reflect as a team, as well as encouraging everyone to do things they enjoy, so that their own basic needs are met too.

Implementing a trauma informed approach and a psychologically informed environment takes time – it’s not something that can be introduced overnight.  However, it’s only a framework – there are no policies or prescriptive set of rules to adhere to.  Essentially, it’s about being person-centred.  At Hightown, we have found that improving our own reflection as a staff team and building our relationship with service users have been positive steps in the right direction.

Spiros Georgiou, Supported Housing Operations Manager, Hightown Housing Association

Interested in finding out how other Homes for Cathy members are implementing a psychologically informed approach in homelessness services and housing? Register for our free online workshop on 26 May.

Psychologically informed approach key to Sovereign’s new Next Steps Accommodation service

Homes for Cathy spoke to Stephanie Wood, Head of Supported Housing at Sovereign, to find out how the housing association has used MHCLG funding to set up a new move-on scheme in Basingstoke that puts the psychological needs of residents first.

What was the background to your Next Steps Accommodation bid?

Before the funding came up, we were already having various discussions with Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council on homelessness provision as part of our involvement with the Basingstoke and Deane Social Inclusion Partnership (SIP).  The SIP is a strategic partnership of local stakeholders, including statutory, voluntary and charity organisations, faith groups and local businesses, all of whom want to reduce homelessness and advance social inclusion in the borough. 

The local authority clearly highlighted that they had real issue with move-on accommodation from the homeless pathway for single people, especially single people under the age of 35 who simply can’t access self-contained properties as move-on.  Not only is it completely unaffordable in Basingstoke for them to cover the cost of a one bed flat, there’s also a massive shortage of one-bed properties in the area. 

We wanted to provide something different and it was felt that offering shared accommodation would work much better, preparing people and giving them the skills for a shared living arrangement, as realistically this is likely to be the type of property they will eventually move on to.

Tell us about the accommodation the funding will deliver

We’re setting up three very small HMO shared properties.  One is already open – a three-bedroom house where we’re currently converting a garage to provide some social space.  The other two – which are very large four-bedroom flats – are being refurbished at the moment to make them three-bedroom flats, one of which will have an office with its own access so as not to impinge on residents’ privacy and the other of which will have a computer or quiet room, depending on what the future residents want. 

We were actually really shocked to get the funding, not only because Basingstoke hadn’t been earmarked as an area for Next Steps Accommodation, but also because the service put forward didn’t meet the criteria for self-contained properties. 

What secured it for us was the unique support we were able to provide with the revenue element.  We’re setting up the service using a psychologically informed approach (PIA), with input from psychologists and peer mentoring – it’s something that was of real interest to MHCLG.

How do the PIA and peer mentoring scheme work and what difference do they make for people using the service?

Through the SIP we were already engaged with an organisation called Outcome Home, a group of psychologists from the University of Southampton who have developed an existing peer mentor programme in Basingstoke.  Luckily, they absolutely felt that this was a project they wanted to be part of and we were able to establish a project group together, which includes two peer mentors, two psychologists from the University of Southampton, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council and ourselves.  What it’s enabled us to do is think about how we could deliver the service differently. The peer mentors and Outcome Home are leading on engagement with residents to shape the policies and approaches for the service, for example how we identify who will move into the properties. 

A crucial aspect is that there are no forms to fill in and no referrals; we simply approach the providers of the local homelessness pathway to suggest who they think would benefit from the service.  We don’t go through any criminal history or previous tenancies, we ask the current provider to share that information with us so the new tenant doesn’t have to go through it over and over again.  The peer mentors and support worker then have a conversation with a prospective tenant to find out what they hope to get out of the scheme, as well as their aspirations in terms of moving forward.  It’s all very informal. 

With the service that’s already open, before it opened we were able to identify three people who wanted to live together and engage with them about what they wanted the service to look like in terms of decoration, furniture and fittings. 

We’re now converting the garage into a lounge with the Next Steps Funding and although we’re limited in terms of the conversion work, the residents have been part of the plans; they’re deciding what’s going in there – a snooker table at present.  Our plan was also to involve them in the decorating itself but unfortunately Covid restrictions and the tight timeline has stopped us from being able to do that.

The support itself is being delivered in three ways. Sovereign does the housing management and our support worker provides up to three hours of support for each individual around practical things like benefits and independent living skills.  There is also a level of support from the volunteer peer mentors who bring lived experience and have been through a lot of the same challenges.  Additionally, the psychologists from Outcomes Homes will spend several hours a week supporting the residents either as a group or as individuals for anyone who wants it. 

The difference with a PIA is that services are designed and delivered in a way that considers the emotional and psychological needs of the individuals using them, so with that in mind we also did a piece of work with the residents around how they wanted to manage the property together; they came up with their own rules, such as not smoking inside.

The peer mentors are also involved alongside the psychologists in working with residents on what we call ‘safety planning’, not only looking at how they would like us to respond to potential challenging behaviour but also how they would like their fellow residents to respond, so problems don’t become bigger issues that could ultimately threaten their accommodation.  There’s no sanction process; the residents decide what happens when someone breaks the rules and how it’s dealt with – it’s very much turning things on their head in terms of who has the control.  It’s quite a unique approach for the residents, who have already been through a pathway of hostels.

Do you have any learnings to share with Homes for Cathy members having set up the service?

As we’ve already opened the first scheme, we definitely have a lot of learnings we can use in the other two properties to make it a smoother process.  As with any partnership scheme, going forward it’s important to map out responsibilities and where they sit, so there’s no confusion or doubling up.  It’s also important to recognise the engagement process with residents can take time; going too quickly can be very overwhelming and cause unnecessary anxiety.  Obtaining ‘buy in’ from other homeless services making the referrals is also vital, not only so that we have a sufficient timeframe to work with residents in advance of moving in but also so that people using those services are informed and educated about their options for moving on and are better prepared when the time comes.  Again, it’s part of the whole PIA approach, taking into account their needs around mental and psychological wellbeing and recognising that moving itself can be traumatic.

What are your hopes for the future of the service? 

We haven’t put a time limit on residents using the service, despite the MHCLG criteria being that it’s temporary move-on for a maximum of two years.  Our belief is that people will be engaging in a service that will move their life on and that they will naturally want progress over that time period.  We hope that having engaged with the peer mentors, residents may even be inspired to become peer mentors themselves to future residents.


About Sovereign

Sovereign is a leading housing association operating across the south of England, with almost 60,000 homes focused in a core area covering Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Dorset, Devon, Wiltshire, the West of England and the Isle of Wight.

Read about Charlie, one of the peer mentors working with Sovereign

Moving away from traditional models of homeless accommodation

In our latest look at how members are using Next Steps Accommodation grants, Homes for Cathy caught up with Charlotte Murray, Co-Director of Care, Health & Wellbeing at South Yorkshire Housing Association, who shared how the funding is helping replace traditional models of homeless accommodation in South Yorkshire with dispersed properties, supporting people living with multiple, complex issues to overcome their challenges.

How does SYHA work to eliminate homelessness in your local area?

At South Yorkshire Housing Association, we believe a high quality, safe and stable home is the foundation for everyone to settle, live well and realise their potential.  We work with homeless people to understand their needs and issues, co-producing services which seek to address the root causes of homelessness, and providing essential services such as hostels.

We’re particularly proud of our Housing First programmes, especially our most established programme in Rotherham.  In partnership with Target Housing and Rotherham Borough Council, we’re providing homes and support for 30 previously homeless people across the borough.  In 2020, through funding from Homeless Link, we employed our first Trauma Informed Counsellor. Through co-design with Housing First customers, we identified an urgent, unmet need for bespoke psychological support which recognised the complexity of their lives and mental health conditions. The model is already proving highly successful and we’re training staff across other services in delivering trauma-informed approaches.

Of course, Housing First is just one part of how SYHA is working to eliminate homelessness; other services we deliver include high-quality social housing and hostel provision. Across the Sheffield City Region, we work collaboratively with cross-sector partners – from specialist charities to statutory services including local authorities, the NHS and police – to ensure a proactive, coordinated response to homelessness, which maximises our collective resources and expertise.

An issue we’re discussing a lot at SYHA is dispersed accommodation. Traditional models of placing homeless people with multiple, complex issues together in one building have simply not proved effective – it tends to increase, not decrease, the challenges homeless people are seeking to overcome, such as conflict, violence, and substance misuse. Finding cost-effective and scalable solutions to replace the model is one of my top priorities.

Being a Homes for Cathy member is important to SYHA. Having a forum to discuss ideas around homelessness openly with other housing associations helps ensure we’re taking on board latest practice and evidence. Equally, we can share what we’re doing with others, which often sparks further conversations and sharing of our approaches.
     
Could you explain about the background to your NSAP bid?

Following the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ campaign, in 2018 Crisis published the Everyone In: a plan to end homelessness report.  In the report, Crisis lobbied Government for funds to support dispersed supported housing models including Housing First – something, given our own Housing First programme and interest in dispersed housing, we were delighted to see.

When the report was first published, a key goal for SYHA was to work with local authorities across Sheffield City Region to roll out the Housing First model further.  We sent the report to our contacts at each local authority and arranged meetings with them to discuss their appetite for working in partnership with SYHA to help deliver some of the recommendations from Everyone In. 

The Government then launched the Next Steps Accommodation Programme. Although we welcomed it, and the much-needed capital and revenue funding it potentially provided, it was disappointing that the timeframes restricted our ability to deliver any capital projects. Additionally, some of the restrictions in the fund didn’t support models with high fidelity to evidence-based Housing First principles.

By that point, there was growing need and momentum across Sheffield City Region, and we’d built good relationships with the local authorities. Collectively, there was real interest in trying to use the fund to provide the best supported housing solution possible. SYHA therefore decided to join forces with a number of local authorities to support their bids for the first year of the programme. 

Charlotte Murray

What were the outcomes of your Next Steps bids?

We’re now working with four local authorities: Chesterfield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley. Due to the limitations of the year one funding round, we kept the scale small, but we know from our Housing First work in Rotherham that these partnerships often grow.

In partnership with Chesterfield Borough Council (CBC), we’re providing Housing First to seven people across the Borough.  The service started in October 2020 and will run initially for 12 months.  CBC provides the homes and SYHA provides the support element of the service. In January 2021, CBC confirmed it would like to extend the service and work with an additional seven customers. This has been part-funded through the Next Steps Accommodation Programme and there are aspirations for the service to continue long-term.

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council (RMBC) has been successful with its bid to the Next Steps Accommodation Programme to provide interim accommodation and support for customers identified as having a low-level mental health diagnosis and who have been displaced as a result of Covid-19.  SYHA will work in partnership with RMBC to deliver ‘Clara Place’, a new homelessness service which will provide a home and support for ten customers.  The service started in November 2020 and will run initially for six months.

Through Next Steps Accommodation funding, our Housing First service in Rotherham, delivered by SYHA and Target Housing for the last three years, has now increased from 25 to 30 customers.

SYHA has an agreement in place with Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council (DMBC) to provide 5-10 properties for Housing First, with the Doncaster Complex Lives team delivering the support.

Finally, we’re also in early talks with Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council about the feasibility of establishing a Housing First service for 10-12 customers across the borough from April 2021.  

What services will the funding deliver?

From SYHA’s perspective, the funding will support a mix of dispersed supported housing, small block housing, and move on accommodation. Working creatively, wherever possible we’ll adhere to the principles of ‘High Housing First Fidelity’, including providing a home for life where we don’t have capital restrictions or can swap properties in and out; providing good choice for customers when selecting a property; and a low ratio of customers to key workers for support.

For future years of the Next Steps Accommodation Programme, we’re seeking to work in partnership with local authorities to bid for capital funding to ensure we can increase the supply of good quality 1- and 2-bedroom homes across Sheffield City Region in the most popular areas.

What are the main challenges of delivering this type of service?

The Next Steps Accommodation Programme has several limitations, such as a maximum stay of two years, rather than a home for life, limited property choice and limited length of revenue funding, making these projects short-term.  We would like to see revised guidance which addresses these issues, and which also helps to ensure the right support is provided to customers, including taking a strength based and trauma informed approach including providing staff and customers with access to a trained counsellor. In future, we would hope to encourage good links with other agencies and providers to ensure holistic support for customers, for example helping them to register with a GP and foodbank, as well as making sure the tenancy is sustainable by providing debt support, furniture packages, and money to start up a home including connected energy services within the property. 

We believe there needs to be a requirement for providers of services to co-produce services with customers affected by homelessness, and the people and organisations which support them.  We would also like to see an end to evictions of customers affected by homelessness.

What were the key learnings around putting together the bids?

Although the timeframes meant the process felt rushed, the Next Steps Accommodation Programme was great in enabling us to collaborate with local authorities to solve a shared problem.

We’d like to provide more homes through the fund, so we’re hoping that the next round will provide longer lead-times that our development team can meet. Finding land is difficult and purchasing secondhand properties has limitations due to supply and the need for future retrofitting to meet the green agenda and EPC standards.

Longer lead times are also critical to ensure good supply of 1- and 2- bedroom dispersed properties, so we can meet demand and offer choice to customers. We’re hoping that there’ll be clear guidance about whether properties can be swapped in and out should a tenant want to stay.

What positives did you take from the process?

The overwhelming positive has been the shift away from shared accommodation and clustered, high-density accommodation for people affected by homelessness, which mirrors SYHA’s own strategic direction. The emphasis on dispersed supported housing has opened up conversations with local authorities for us and we’ve built new, growing partnerships.

Although the Next Steps Accommodation Programme falls short of some of the recommendations in the Crisis report, ‘Everyone In’, and hasn’t yet enabled us to work in partnership with local authorities to deliver high-fidelity Housing First programmes at scale across Sheffield City Region, it is certainly moving the homelessness strategy forward in the right direction.


South Yorkshire Housing Association is a founding member of the Homes for Cathy group and offers safe and secure spaces for homeless people and families to live in.

Can do attitude helps Broadland rise to Next Steps challenge

In the third in our series of articles about the role of Homes for Cathy members in delivering the Government’s Next Steps Accommodation Programme, we spoke to Broadland Housing’s Executive Development Director Andrew Savage and Executive Director of Housing Catherine Little, to find out how they’re rising to the challenge to provide interim accommodation for homeless people in Norfolk.

What’s the homelessness picture in your local area?

Andrew:

Broadland provides more than 5,000 homes across Norfolk and north Suffolk, so we cover both urban and very rural areas.  As a city and major town in Norfolk, Norwich and King’s Lynn have always been very much at the sharp end of homelessness, with multiple pressing issues such as a large number of migrant homeless with no recourse to public funds.  However, since the pandemic hit, registered providers have realised that there is a homelessness issue right across the area now, not just in the larger settlements.  For example, we’ve seen increasing numbers of people rough sleeping in places like Great Yarmouth and towns in North Norfolk that aren’t normally associated with homelessness, such as Fakenham and North Walsham.  Consequently, there’s been a lot of pressure on local authorities to accommodate people at short notice, with no additional funds to do so. 

Tell us about the projects you are undertaking with NSAP funding…

Andrew:

We asked ourselves the question ‘where do we have critical mass?’ and the answer is Norwich, King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth.  In Great Yarmouth, the local authority wanted to own their properties, as they are a stock holding authority.  So Broadland are providing development agency services to help the three new build developments the council are undertaking.  These when completed will provide circa 30, 50sqm one bedroomed self-contained apartments using modular construction.

In Norwich, we’re working with Norwich City Council to deliver three projects.  We’re buying 10 street flats to provide ex-offenders with a stable home and help them reintegrate into the community. This is using the city’s Right to Buy monies and Broadland capital.  We’re also purchasing an additional 10 flats, using Next Steps funding, on the open market which will be dedicated to Housing First tenants.  Finally, we’re building six one-bedroom modular flats in a new development intended for move-on accommodation.

In King’s Lynn, we have two projects underway using Next Steps funding in collaboration with the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk.  Again, we’re buying six flats on the open market as part of a Housing First project, and leasing ten one bedroom flats for move on.

Broadland Housing Group’s development director Andrew Savage

Did your NSAP bid include any revenue funding?

Catherine:

Yes, we have revenue funding to support our Housing First projects and also to support people in move-on accommodation.  It’s important that people who have experienced homelessness aren’t just given a home and expected to fend for themselves.  For the Housing First projects, we’ve commissioned support from specialist providers, who can provide the right expertise in this area.

What have been the key challenges around delivering on the Next Steps programme?

Andrew:

The main challenge has been that we already had our annual development programme in place, so we’re adding to a programme in a way that wasn’t planned.   It had to be a knee-jerk response because of the funding becoming available – it’s forced us to be reactive which isn’t always ideal in delivering new supply.  Despite this, we haven’t wanted to lower our ambitions on quality.  For example, we’ve done many modern methods of construction (MMC) projects in the past, so it’s not necessarily a new approach, but we’re using it for the right solution.  In terms of meeting the March deadline, there have been a few delays, particularly with the modular accommodation and the housing market supply ebbing and flowing through the various lockdowns however MHCLG and Housing England have been sensible where they can see we’re well advanced with plans.

Catherine:

MHCLG have been brilliant about what they want to achieve but, I agree, it’s not been particularly strategic.  I think we should be looking at a system change instead; unfortunately it feels like we’re a million miles away from that.  The idea of a ‘national asset’ is great, but moving people around is not true Housing First – it doesn’t allow people to put down roots. 

Catherine Little, Broadland’s executive director of housing

What learnings have you taken from the process?

Andrew:

I think in the future, it would be beneficial for the co-ordination to come from either Housing England or MHCLG, rather than both.  Looking ahead I personally feel, funding for years two and three needs to come out at the same time, so that we can plan accordingly.  It would be much better to deliver extra supply rather than partly buying from the existing market stock.  However, there’s always going to be a learning curve and ultimately this was a need in the sector that hadn’t been dealt with.  We now have an opportunity to help deliver what we can in the short term and hopefully people will see the merits in medium term programmes to deliver the ambition of long term national assets.

Catherine:

We’ve been able to build on existing relationships which has been great; fortunately there was already a good deal of trust between Broadland and our local authorities, which made us a natural partner.  We’ve worked more closely with other housing associations to make sure we’re co-ordinating, not competing in this area. The question now is ‘how do we continue to build on these positive relationships?’  From our point of view, it’s vital that we keep an open conversation going with both commissioners and strategic housing providers. 

It’s also vital not to underestimate the importance of the third sector, which has provided strong support across the whole of the county during the crisis.  We believe that if another provider can do something better, they should be the one doing it – no one agency needs to try to do everything.  The partnership approach has definitely broken down some of the barriers that may have existed in the past, which is wonderful.

What positives have you taken from the process?

Catherine:

We’re lucky to be working in an organisation with the leadership of a CEO (Michael Newey) who is passionate about the need to end homelessness and a Board who unanimously support what we’re trying to do.  Being a member of Homes for Cathy has certainly been instrumental in making that happen.

Andrew:

Being part of Homes for Cathy has also provided something for our development team to ‘sell’ to local authorities, allowing us to go in and talk to them about the need for more housing rather than temporary accommodation.  We’re able to say to local authorities ‘we’re here to support you’ and local councillors know that Broadland is fully committed.  Essentially it’s helped us cut through and sell our capability as a trusted partner to local authorities in the challenge to end homelessness.


One of the Homes for Cathy group’s founding members, Broadland Housing Association was formed in 1963 and built its first scheme, at Shipfield in Norwich, in 1967. Today it provides more than 5,000 quality homes across Norfolk and north Suffolk.

Everyone Out?

by Charlotte Murray, Director of Care, Health & Wellbeing, South Yorkshire Housing Association

The Government’s response to homelessness—particularly rough sleeping—when the first Covid-19 lockdown was announced was pretty amazing.  For the first time, the Government showed leadership in supporting homeless people and there was unity amongst people affected by homelessness, homelessness groups, local authorities, and housing associations.

In one weekend in March, all rough sleepers were offered housing.  No-one stopped to check immigration status, income levels or intentionality: everyone was offered a roof over their head.  Hotels, student halls of residence, and other shared accommodation were made available.  Some of it wasn’t ideal, but it was much better than the prospect of sleeping out, exposed to the pandemic.

Determination and sense of a common goal was maintained

In the months that followed, that determination and sense of a common goal was maintained.  It took many forms.  For example, civil servants began to shape programmes and new funding streams for permanent accommodation for homeless people, councils prioritised homelessness projects for nominations, and housing associations bent over backwards to provide a higher proportion of self-contained accommodation for these groups. 

It was Mahatma Gandhi who said: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable members.”  The test, though, isn’t what can be achieved in a crisis. It’s whether we can sustain our determination to end homelessness once and for all.

Short-term or one-off initiatives won’t cut it

This was the objective of Crisis’s brilliant report, Everybody In (2018).  The detail of its 250 pages means we need never ask ourselves again how we can end homelessness.  The report pulled together in one place best practice from around the world; we now know how to do it.  The report makes it clear that short-term or one-off initiatives won’t cut it.  There are many different causes of homelessness: poverty, mental illness, the lack of social housing and a dysfunctional housing market.  Initiatives have failed in the past because they adopt the ‘whack-a-mole’ approach, addressing an issue in one area for it to pop out somewhere else. 

Reports and announcements in recent weeks demonstrate that we’re relapsing back to a disjointed approach.  These include:

  • the debate regarding the possible termination of the additional Universal Credit payments of £20 per week
  • research by the New Economics Foundation warning that one third of the population will be living below the minimum socially acceptable standard of living by next Spring
  • the significant weakening of the eviction ban.
Crisis’ ‘Everybody In’ report pulls together best practice on homelessness

It’s not all bad news though.  There’s a clear Government commitment to provide access for rough sleepers to the vaccination programme.  The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has asked local authorities to ensure that homeless people can be protected from the virus and that they’re registered with GPs.  Local authorities have been asked to reach out once again to people who have previously refused their support.

One in four lettings by social landlords made to statutorily homeless

Similarly, recent HouseMark data shows over a quarter of social housing landlords are prioritising lettings to homeless people.  As a result, one in four lettings were made to households identified as statutorily homeless—equivalent to 9,000 households across the UK. The Next Steps Accommodation programme is increasing the number of homes and the support available to homeless people (for a maximum of two years, rather than a home for life but progress never the less).

SYHA's Cuthbert Bank supported accommodation houses homeless families in their own homes
SYHA’s Cuthbert Bank supported accommodation houses homeless families in their own homes

At SYHA, we’re keeping our voids work and lettings open to ensure we can house the most in need. We’re strictly following our ‘no evictions into street homelessness’ policy and working closely with local authorities to increase support and accommodation.

It sometimes feels like we’re standing on a street corner with a megaphone shouting, “Is anybody there?”  The leadership has gone.  SYHA and the other associations in the Homes for Cathy Group will continue to work in line with our values and commitments and challenge ourselves to do more, but we do need leadership, urgency—and, importantly, a long-term, joined up strategy.  The new Housing Minister, Eddie Hughes, reportedly brings with him a background in and “passion for” housing.  Great. Right now, we need someone with the vision and steady determination to continue the momentum built up in 2020. We are ready and waiting.


South Yorkshire Housing Association is a founding member of the Homes for Cathy group and offers safe and secure spaces for homeless people and families to live in.

Charity’s value for money proposal secures NSAP funding

Homes for Cathy’s charity members are playing a vital part in delivering safe, secure and affordable properties for people experiencing homelessness, thanks to successful bids for Next Steps Accommodation funding.  Homes for Cathy spoke to HARP Southend’s Director of Property Development, Nicky Houston, about the charity’s efforts to help homeless people in the town and how their Next Steps capital award will be used.

Tell us about HARP Southend and the work you do….

HARP is the leading Southend charity helping local people overcome homelessness.  We have 226 beds, all in Southend, of which we own 50 per cent, with the other 50 per cent owned by private landlords.  They’re all single occupancy, catering for the single homeless cohort that typically is not accepted as statutory homeless. Our aspiration is to increase the proportion of beds we own to 60 per cent, which is where I come in; a big part of my role is sourcing funding in order to develop our property portfolio. 

HARP helps over 1,000 people who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness every year

What’s the local homelessness picture in Southend?

Southend is a popular seaside resort, with many people employed by the tourist industry in low paid, casual work.  It’s also a commuter town with direct links into London’s Fenchurch Street and Liverpool Street stations, which means property prices are very high compared to the average wage.  With limited social housing, a large private rented sector and unstable employment, many of our cohort slip through the cracks.  HARP Southend focuses on supporting three key groups – young people, women and those with complex needs – providing emergency housing and long-term solutions that enable people to rebuild their lives and live independently in the community.

How did your NSAP bid come about and what does it entail?

Our focus is very much on the local community and we work closely with Southend Borough Council, who encouraged us to come forward with recommendations as part of their overall bid.  This was an interesting aspect, in that the council had faith that we could deliver on our proposals.  In fact, we put in two bids, as we knew that the funding pot would be massively oversubscribed, and we felt it would increase our chance of getting at least one bid approved.  Although one of the bids – for a property refurbishment and remodelling – was turned down, fortunately our bid to purchase the property adjacent to two we already own was approved.  The £170k capital grant we have been awarded will enhance our existing plans to create 42 new units of single homeless accommodation, with the advantage that this will be part of an existing, well-supported project with an infrastructure and staffing already in place.  Essentially, we’ll be providing a lot more for the money.

HARP Southend’s Director of Property Development, Nicky Houston

Are there any challenges around delivering on your proposal, especially given the 31 March 2021 completion deadline?

We put in the bid on the basis that we would be able to acquire the three flats within the property. Luckily, as the bid formed part of a major project that was already secured, we’d had conversations with the flat owners over whether they would sell, although there we no guarantees until we knew we were getting the funding – essentially, you have to start committing on spec.

There was a question mark over one flat in particular and whether we could guarantee vacant possession by the end of March with all the lockdown restrictions, which was quite worrying.  Miraculously, all three owners have agreed to sell and we’re now going through the purchasing process.  However we’re having to turn everything round on a hairpin, especially given that we didn’t find out about the award until the end of October.  Fortunately, we’re not looking at major refurbishments, and we’re hoping to complete on two properties by the beginning of February and the third by the end of February.

Another challenge has come from the pandemic itself; we’ve been hit much more heavily than the first lockdown, with staff sickness meaning that we’ve had to postpone move-ins temporarily.  However, we’re hoping we’ll be able to start moving people again from the beginning of March.

What difference will the project make to the lives of people experiencing homelessness in Southend?

In terms of accommodation, we generally tend to look at bedsits, so we’re pretty confident and excited about being able to offer flats instead – they’re at such a premium but are the perfect solution for people for whom shared accommodation isn’t suitable.  We’ll be working with each individual to encourage them to go through our tenancy ready development programme incorporating life skills, budgeting and tenancy skills – so eventually they’ll be able to move out and move on to independent living following their time with us. 

What positives have you taken from the bid process?

We always had a good relationship with Southend Borough Council’s development team and this process has cemented that relationship while at the same time helping us to develop better relationships with other parts of the local authority. 

Our relationship with Homes England was also instrumental; they were very supportive when we had queries over whether we could deliver and instilled confidence in us that we could do it. 

Ultimately, it’s brilliant to be an integral part of the overall homelessness prevention programme for the area and to know that, as an organisation, we are able to offer rounded support for individuals while delivering value for money.