Homes for Cathy member Hightown has recently expanded its homelessness services to Buckinghamshire, working with Buckinghamshire Council to co-produce a new move-on service that is proving a lifeline for single people
Opened in 2021, Ardenham House is Hightown’s first specialist homelessness service in Buckinghamshire. Located in the centre of Aylesbury, the RSAP (Rough Sleeper Accommodation Programme) funded service was co-produced with Buckinghamshire Council to provide a vital stepping stone between emergency accommodation and independent living.
Service users at Ardenham House live in their own self-contained studio flats and are supported by our on-site team for up to two years as they prepare to secure and maintain their own tenancy, receiving help with health issues, substance use, budgeting and housing applications.
Stuart moved into Ardenham House in October 2021 after he became homeless through alcohol addiction. He says:
“I fell into a bit of a dark place really. I was living in a rented bedroom and was drinking a lot. The drink became a problem and that’s why I lost the tenancy and became homeless. I got put into temporary accommodation and was put in touch with AHAG – Aylesbury Homeless Action Group – who helped me. I was also in hospital for five weeks due to the alcoholism and was referred to One Recovery Bucks, which specialises in supporting people with alcohol addiction.”
Whilst in temporary accommodation, Stuart was assessed for his suitability for a tenancy at Ardenham House. Since moving in, he’s made great progress.
He adds: “I get all the support I need here. They help me with letters, bills, monitoring my alcoholism – they’re just fantastic. They are there 24/7, day and night. If I need to go and knock on the door, there’s always someone there on the other side.
“I’ve recently gone back to work, back to the job I used to do before. They took me back on and my colleagues there have stood alongside me. At the moment I’m just taking it day by day with the help and support of the staff here, AHAG and One Recovery Bucks. Having my colleagues at work also makes all the difference.
“At the moment I’m taking it week by week at work; it has been a struggle because I was off for 15 months and I’ve gone straight back into it. I’ve achieved a lot because 15 months ago this was never possible. It just goes to show that there is help out there but people need to work towards it, help themselves. Being here has changed my life – life is finally getting back to normal.”
Homes for Cathy member Abri – a 35,000 home housing association operating in the south of England – has partnered with Southern Health Foundation Trust (SHFT) and homelessness charity The Society of St James (SSJ) to provide the ‘Step Out Pathway’, housing and support for people discharged from acute mental health services.
With one in four people in the UK experiencing mental health problems each year, mental health services are becoming increasingly stretched. Part of this is a lack of move-on accommodation support for people in mental ill health recovery, which is becoming a growing crisis for the NHS. Across Hampshire, this is resulting in substantial housing need as well as cost pressures for the NHS.
SHFT reported that limited spaces were being blocked by people who could return to the community if there was supply of appropriate accommodation. Around 60 people (many from Southampton) were, as a result, being housed in temporary accommodation in cities such as Manchester, Bradford and Liverpool at an average cost of £600 per day.
In partnership with SHFT, Abri provides access to a portfolio of 15 properties to help alleviate the issue. Situated on the outskirts of central Southampton, the Mansbridge location encourages independence and helps people in recovery to be close to community facilities, while distancing from other negative influences. These properties are granted through a lease agreement to The Society of St James (SSJ), a Southampton-based homelessness charity, who take on full housing management and landlord responsibilities. Abri has a good working relationship with SSJ, established over many years of working together on other initiatives.
The Keep Well Collaborative was instrumental in the conceptualisation, design and development of this ‘Step out’ pathway, facilitating the approach as part of their wider commission by the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Integrated Care System to address health inequalities through a focus on the home.
Abri now has eight leases in place and the partnership is looking to explore more opportunities. It has been a challenging process, with people moving from acute inpatient units with long-term mental health issues, but the partnership is proud there have been no hospital re-admissions and there are signs of the residents establishing themselves within the local community.
The longer-term leases (seven years) also provide time and space for people to think differently. Removing the timeline for people moving out of the properties reduces pressure and enables them to focus on making the changes they need to make in their lives.
Avril Ansell, Abri’s Partnership Living Manager, said, “It’s been such a positive piece of partnership working and is such a clear fulfilment of our strategic aim around community, as we’re building on our relationships with both the NHS and also a specialist housing management provider to help people to move on with their lives in a really clear way. I know that my team has really valued seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they’ve seen the properties that they are about to move into, knowing that they are hopefully turning another significant corner to improved health and wellbeing.
“Having a place to call home, establishing roots and finding opportunities for personal development can make a significant difference to people’s lives. We’re excited to continue working in partnership to provide these homes for years to come.”
Jon Pritchard, Associate Director of Housing & Community Inclusion at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust added, “This collaboration between Abri, Society of Saint James, and Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust provides an excellent discharge solution for people who, traditionally, haven’t had many/any accommodation options at the point of discharge. With the support of our partners, Abri and SSJ, we are discharging people from our inpatient care much sooner than we would be able to do otherwise.
“Using a consistent person-centred approach across all of our organisations we can ensure that the property is right for the individual (close to support/family networks/transport links, and meets their accessibility requirements etc).
“The individuals receive intensive, time-limited support from the Southern Health Community Rehabilitation Team when they move in to their new home, which transfers to the Community Mental Health Team over time. This structured support really helps to make the discharge sustainable.
“Our partnership brings the constituent strengths of each organisation together, delivering the greatest impact for our service users. We very much look forward to continuing to grow this innovative approach.”
A joint two year project between Cross Keys Homes (CKH) and Peterborough City Council has enabled rough sleepers in the city to quickly access the highest levels of support so they can transition from life on the street into sustained accommodation. Homes for Cathy spoke to Cross Keys Homes’ Assistant Director, Housing Needs, Ali Manji, to learn more about how their Rough Sleepers Floating Support Initiative has helped to transform the lives of people with complex needs.
How did the scheme come about?
Back in 2019, Peterborough City Council partnered with CKH to bid for Rough Sleeper Initiative (RSI) government funding to provide a dedicated floating support worker in Peterborough for rough sleepers. This was awarded for a one-year period and was extended until March 2021 due to the success of the scheme. The floating support worker was managed solely by CKH and helped to provide temporary accommodation to rough sleepers, as well as the one-to-one support required to establish a helpful, positive, and constructive relationship, mapping a clear pathway into more permanent accommodation.
Referrals were made by Peterborough City Council’s housing needs officers using the following criteria for rough sleepers:
• Required support to start and maintain their tenancy;
• Had no other support in place to sustain their accommodation; and
• A willingness to engage with the support service.
What type of support was offered?
Alongside sustaining tenancies, it was recognised that there was a need to help individuals access services for their health including substance abuse and mental health issues, as well as reconnect with family members and back into society, and help them to overcome the many other challenges they faced. Intensive support was offered delivering targeted tenancy-focused intervention, via direct work and signposting. This included taking clients to pre-booked appointments, helping them to engage with other agencies to build upon their skills, and empowering and enabling individuals to develop independently and become responsible tenants in the long-term.
What did you learn from running the scheme?
During the two-year project, successful multi-agency work with reliable contacts and good working relationships were formed, which were essential to the success of this scheme. Thanks to this initiative, CKH have now adopted many of these principles internally to ensure rough sleepers who sign up for a CKH tenancy receive the dedicated ongoing one-to-one support they require to maintain their tenancy and overcome any challenges they face.
The average days of involvement with each client during this two-year initiative was 106. This ranged from the shortest at 18 days (prison recall) to the longest at 339 days.
Case study – Supporting a former rough sleeper with dementia to access a retirement living scheme
(from CKH’s floating support worker case notes)
A referral was received from Peterborough City Council’s Outreach team for TR, a 65 year old man who was found rough sleeping in the centre of town after a relationship breakdown. TR had been in hospital and was discharged without a forwarding address, so the Outreach team arranged temporary bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation for him.
I first met with TR at the Garden House – a support base offering information, advice and support to rough sleepers. TR was suffering from early onset dementia. He had been accepted for a retirement housing property at a retirement living scheme, however the property he was moving into was unfurnished. TR was worried about moving, about how he would be able to make it a home, pay for household items and sort out his bills. I reassured him that I would be his dedicated support worker who would be able to help him with all these concerns and would accompany him to his new property to sign his tenancy and get the keys.
On our next contact we met with his scheme manager at the retirement property to sign his new tenancy. There were a lot of documents that TR had to go through and understand. TR was distressed as he was not retaining the information provided, so I went through the documents with him and broke the information down into bitesize points which he could understand more clearly. TR was concerned that the property was not something that he was able to afford so I spent the next hour with him making a list of outgoings that would need to be addressed with my help. When I returned TR to the B&B, I advised that I would be back the next day to move what little he had into his new home. TR seemed excited that he had his keys but also quite apprehensive about the thought of managing a home on his own.
TR moved into his property several days later, after I had arranged for a bed, chair, bedding, fridge freezer and microwave to be delivered.
Over the new few weeks, I had frequent calls from him regarding the list of things he needed to do. However, he was excited that he was able to get some decorating items from his new landlord and was about to paint the living room with his friend. During this time, I was able to collect and deliver more donated items for him including wardrobes and a bedside table, which helped to turn his house into a proper home. His new landlord also agreed to purchase a new cooker and have it installed.
During our next appointment, we were joined by an advisor from Housing Benefit who assessed TR and confirmed that his rent and standing charge would be covered by Housing Benefit and, whilst TR waited for his next Universal Credit payment, I provided him with a food bank voucher to help.
TR was now feeling much better and more in control knowing that he could afford to live in his home. I advised him that we needed to apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) due to his mobility issues and his early onset dementia. TR was happy to do this, and work began to obtain this extra living cost for him, as well as help to apply for affordable tariffs to pay for his water, gas and electricity bills.
Unfortunately, at this time lockdown occurred and I was unable to visit TR in person. Instead, I relied solely on the telephone updates from his scheme manager. TR was very hard to contact during this time but when I eventually managed to reach him, he informed me that he had been coping well. Lockdown had forced him to connect with his neighbours and they had been bringing him items of food. TR also informed me that he had been frequently having falls but could not get hold of his GP. I reminded him that he had his LifeLine (alarm pendant) which he needed to wear in case he had another fall. I contacted the scheme manager and asked if TR could be contacted by LifeLine every other day to ensure his safety.
TR completed his PIP interview by himself during lockdown and was awarded the extra living cost benefit. He had also been updating his budget planner and going through this each week with me during our now regular phone call catch ups.
When I was able to visit TR in person in August, we sat outside. TR advised me that his falls were increasing, that he had lumps on his skin, and he had cut his finger but did not realise. I made an emergency appointment for him with his GP. I met him at the surgery the next day and he asked me to join him for the consultation. TR had very low blood pressure and a few days later was admitted to hospital.
TR was put on appropriate medication and his memory improved. When I next visited him he was feeling much better and informed me that all his utility bills were up to date and he was continuing with his budget plan. He realised that during lockdown he had made a few bad health choices which led to him being admitted to hospital and didn’t want this to happen to him again.
I advised TR that I would call him every two weeks until the end of November given his accomplishments to date. This would ensure that he had his Warm Homes discount in place and then afterwards I would reduce contact to once a month until March. This was to ensure that he was still getting the help he required from his GP’s surgery, his retirement housing scheme and that he was keeping up to date with his utility bills but also enabled him to become even more independent in sustaining his tenancy by himself.
At the end of this period, I did not feel that TR required any further assistance. He was coping well on his own and managing all aspects of his tenancy. And still to this day, TR continues to be very happy and settled in his home at the retirement living scheme.
Cross Keys Homes is a commercial business with a social heart, managing 11,000 properties across the East of England for social housing, shared ownership, private rent and leasehold.
Homes for Cathy recently interviewed Zaza Phoenix, one of BCHA‘s new Meaningful Occupation Coordinators, to find out more about her role supporting formerly homeless people to achieve their aspirations through meaningful activities. Here Zaza shares how the role came about and how this type of support can help people move their lives forward after experiencing rough sleeping, addiction and trauma.
How did the role of Meaningful Occupation Coordinator come about?
The role came about following BCHA’s success partnering with local authorities in Bournemouth, Dorset, Exeter and Plymouth, in bidding for the Government’s ‘Next Step Accommodation Programme’ (NSAP) funding. The NSAP Project was created to temporarily house rough sleepers in response to the Covid 19 pandemic.
BCHA has worked together with our planning, asset and tenancy sustainment colleagues to deliver an ambitious supported and move on accommodation project. Our success with the NSAP programme reflects the strong and credible relationships we have established with local authorities and partners. It’s a great example of how we have worked together in supporting homelessness strategies and our commitment to providing good quality housing solutions to people who would otherwise be homeless.
This role is a culture fit to BCHA’s existing Ignite programme, an area of expertise for BCHA, which has been successfully delivering employability skills for over ten years. Our Ignite employability and skills programme focuses on supporting people to find greater self-belief, break free from benefit support, get back in to work, and live life. Delivered in partnership with Skills & Learning BCP, Ignite offers a range of workshops for people to choose from, which are all tailored to build someone’s self-esteem and confidence, and to support people to achieve their goals.
What does your role entail?
The Meaningful Occupation Coordinators work closely with a small group of individuals in an accommodation setting, who are seeking to return to learning or work after moving out of homelessness. Our approach is to provide intensive 1:1 practical support to bring out a client’s aspirations, strengths and abilities through meaningful occupation activities. The role focuses on the following areas:
Empowering individuals to make choices and to be in control of their own lives
Genuine future planning drawing on hopes, strengths, aspirations and goals
Nurturing meaningful and positive relationships based on trust
Mindfully promoting physical health and mental wellbeing
Keeping people safe and building long term resilience
Connection to digital and in person communities and networks
What particular challenges do your clients face and how do meaningful activities help them move forward?
We work with individuals with complex lives facing challenges such as homelessness, rough sleeping, addiction and trauma to make positive changes.
Meaningful activities will give clients tools, skills, and knowledge to make lasting positive changes to enhance their life. Clients will have a person centred programme developed using the Outcomes Star as a foundation tool, to look at each person’s journey, choices, and goals, as they may be different. An overriding aim is to support people to increase their self-esteem, confidence, motivation, and wellbeing through a Housing First model, utilising a trauma informed approach within a psychologically informed environment.
Are there any particular obstacles you have encountered in the role and how have you been able to overcome them?
The particular obstacles we have encountered are:
Unaffordability – those who would benefit most from the service of Meaningful Occupation cannot actually afford the tenancy, while those who can afford the tenancy are less willing to engage due to the detrimental affect employment may have on their benefit income.
COVID and BREXIT have continually delayed properties being ready on time, due to supplies etc.
COVID has also presented obstacles in engaging with residents safely, however the necessary PPE has been provided to support this.
We are remaining flexible around these obstacles and addressing them as/if they arise using reflective practice.
Do you have any tips or advice for other housing associations or charities looking to introduce a similar role/scheme?
The best tips we can offer are:
Network. Knowing where your providers are and build strong relationships within the community to create a positive reputation for yourself and the service you are providing. When the MOC comes to discuss the goals and aspirations of each client they will have a wealth of knowledge about service provision and available opportunities, and also have pre-established links with the community providers.
Mutual, experiential, intensive support. Signposting does not work for much of our client group – get in touch with the workshop / class / course / volunteering provider and ask what the criteria of attendance is (be informed about what you are recommending from a position of experience rather than blind signposting). Then attend the session alongside your client, not merely in a supportive role. Lead by example.
Make sure what you do is based in a framework of evidence. We champion the 5 stages of wellness (NEF, 2008) with everything we do with our clients. Being evidence based and championed by the NHS, it provides continuity and a framework of what we are working towards. Use reflective practice to reinforce the positive experience.
BCHA is a charitable housing association based in Bournemouth, operating across the South West of England. For more information, visit http://www.bcha.org.uk.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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…
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.
Did your NSAP bid include any revenue funding?
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?
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.
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.
What learnings have you taken from the process?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Following the recent announcement of funding awards for the Government’s Next Steps Accommodation Programme (NSAP), Homes for Cathy has been catching up with members who have been involved in successful bids, to discover more about their plans to tackle homelessness. In the first in our series of NSAP focused articles, we spoke to Martin Hancock, CEO of BCHA and one of the founding members of Homes for Cathy.
How did the pandemic impact on homelessness in your region?
BCHA works mainly in the Bournemouth, Christchurch, Poole (BCP) area but also in Dorset, South Somerset and across Devon. In terms of homelessness in the BCP area, the COVID situation highlighted a much bigger problem. Whereas previously, there was a street count of around 70 to 80 people rough sleeping, during COVID the local authority suddenly needed to house another 200 people who were ‘hidden homeless’, sofa surfing or living in insecure accommodation – essentially people not living in homes of their own. It became clear that there was a huge demand for additional accommodation in the main area in which we operate, but also to a lesser extent in places like Plymouth and Exeter.
Tell us more about the background to your NSAP bid…
The criteria for the bid was that it had to be co-produced and fortunately in the BCP area we were already part of a Homelessness Reduction Board set up by the local authority in 2019, involving a number of additional homelessness working groups. The local authority was able to use these as a vehicle to get people round the table very quickly to start work on a bid. The COVID situation really helped to consolidate a partnership working approach, which up until that point had only been in the early stages. The Plymouth Alliance already existed around homelessness services so helped in that area.
What particular challenges did you encounter?
For this first round of NSAP funding, there wasn’t a lot of time to put anything together. It was the middle of August and we had around two weeks to turn something around. This put huge pressure on councils, who had to work extremely hard to pull everything together, define exactly what they wanted and whether to bid for the short-term or longer-term programme. BCHA put in a proposal for the short-term programme with an ambitious proposal to deliver 40 units in the BCP area, of which 25 were agreed by MHCLG, while BCP Council put in for 20 properties, of which 15 were approved. We’re also delivering 17 more properties across Plymouth, Exeter and Dorset, with funding for 42 units in total. All by 31 March 2021 which is another big challenge of course but our teams are well on the way to achieving this outcome.
One of the most challenging aspects of the process was that the bid required us to submit a lot of detail about the actual properties. We picked street properties that we’d identified through discussions with local private developers, but we could only give the developers a verbal agreement until the funding was approved.
In our case, 15 of the units we identified are in a brand new block, and a further five are refurbished properties that we negotiated with another developer. The pressure is now on, particularly with the 15 new builds, and we’re going to be going to the wire to get the properties finished for 31 March 2021.
Another issue is that this all happened at a time when the property market was quite buoyant, with government initiatives such as help to buy and no stamp duty resulting in a big rush of buyers – it is credit to our development team that we were able to negotiate competitive prices without being able to put formal contracts in place until now.
Did your bid involve revenue funding?
Yes, across the full bid, we were allocated funding for the equivalent of five workers across the 42 properties, essentially a one to 10 ratio of intensive work, which was a big positive. The aim is for long-term stability for the cohort that needs much more intensive work. The plan is for the newly appointed meaningful occupation support workers to develop a personalised programme for each tenant, coaching around confidence and self-esteem and upskilling them in areas such as IT to ensure they are not only ‘work ready’ but also ‘tenancy ready’ and can sustain a long-term tenancy.
While we recognise there is an expectation in this funding for people to move on from this housing, we would hope that if they are settled and haven’t been housed for many years they will be able to stay in the property for some time, otherwise there’s a danger you move people on and their tenancy fails.
What were the key learnings?
The NSAP bid was an ideal opportunity to help end rough sleeping and achieve more on the social rent model; we felt that if you want people to be able to move away from rough sleeping, gain employment and be self-sufficient, the rent needs to be truly affordable. Many of the jobs in the BCP area are in areas like hospitality, retail and care and therefore often around the national living and minimum wage levels, so you can’t charge someone £150 per week rent. Fortunately, the capital grant awarded is sufficient for BCHA to make a social rent model work, requiring only another £12k grant above the affordable rent levels along with extra capital funding from ourselves.
The bid only happened because of people putting in a lot of time and energy. In addition, because of the very short timeframe, we also had to rely on a lot of goodwill locally. It has shown us that it is possible to work together and make things happen. However, equally, it’s important to recognise who is best to deliver on certain aspects of a bid. You also need to be pretty agile, as our experience shows. Co-production is great, although there was a lot of time spent on co-ordination – direct contact with registered providers such as ourselves could maybe have speeded things up a little, given the time pressures.
What positives have you taken away from the process?
Having been through the process, it does feel possible to put an end to rough sleeping, although it is going to take more than 18 months. The advisor team at MHCLG is clearly committed to making it happen and it is encouraging that they keen to hear feedback from housing associations such as ourselves, as the recent Homes for Cathy workshop with colleagues from the Ministry’s Rough Sleeping Unit proved.
The fact that we are already involved in homelessness as an organisation means that we could respond quickly, as the pathways were already in place, something that is underpinned by the Homes for Cathy commitments.
The process proves the value of having homelessness strategies in place, not just housing strategies, and the need to foster a more joined up approach to housing ambition and tackling homelessness.