Category Archives: Uncategorized

Homes for Cathy part of ground-breaking commission seeking to end rough sleeping

The Homes for Cathy group is one of over 100 housing, health, government and charity organisations and individuals with lived experience who submitted evidence for a ground-breaking new report calling for the Government to continue the principles and funding of the ‘Everyone In’ emergency response to rough sleeping.

The Kerslake Commission on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping, chaired by the former head of the civil service Lord Bob Kerslake, has concluded the Government needs to maintain the additional funding that it made available during the pandemic – equating to £82m a year on top of its previous spending commitment – if it is to have any chance of achieving its pre-election promise to end rough sleeping by the end of this parliament.

The Commission was convened in March 2021 to examine the lessons from the public health emergency response to rough sleeping during the pandemic, and to understand how the significant progress made can be embedded in the longer term.  It analysed the cross sector response to Covid-19, and the Government’s ‘Everyone In’ initiative, launched in March 2020, which saw local authorities directed to move people who were sleeping rough into emergency accommodation to protect them from the virus.

As a result, according to Government estimates, at least 37,000 people were provided with a Covid-secure place to stay, along with access to health and other support services. The policy has been credited as having saved hundreds of lives. The Kerslake Commission received more than 100 evidence submissions from local authorities, from people with lived experience of homelessness and of sleeping rough, as well as from and health, housing and homelessness organisations. It also commissioned two literature reviews into the emergency response.  The interim report, entitled ‘When We Work Together – Learning the Lessons’ provides a comprehensive overview of this evidence and makes recommendations for the priorities and approaches needed to end rough sleeping which are targeted at the 2021 Comprehensive Spending Review.

Homes for Cathy chair David Bogle, who sits on the Commission’s Advisory Board, comments:

“I was honoured to be asked to be part of the Commission on behalf of Homes for Cathy.  We know that within the Homes for Cathy group there is a real appetite to play a part in ending rough sleeping, with many of our member organisations pulling out all the stops to support the Everyone In initiative.  It’s vital that the Government makes long-term investments now so that we don’t lose that momentum and can build on the success achieved.”

David Bogle, chair of Homes for Cathy

The Kerslake Commission interim report makes 22 recommendations. The key points of these are:

  • The Government must capture and capitalise on the gains that were made as a result of its ‘Everyone In’ policy and the partnership working which flowed from it as a matter of urgency, and maintain the necessary funding
  • The cross-sector, cross-departmental, momentum initiated by central Government at the start of the pandemic, married with the additional support and resourcing provided since, has clearly demonstrated that street homelessness can be ended
  • Future funding streams made available to local authorities must be more flexible and have longevity if the prevention and long term support measures needed to end rough sleeping are to be effectively and appropriately implemented as determined by local need in a ‘spend to save’ approach
  • That street homelessness is treated as a public health and housing priority which requires a cross-Governmental approach with co-ordination on both strategy and delivery, at all levels
  • To prevent more homelessness and rough sleeping in the future we need to maintain the £20 uplift in Universal Credit and the change to local housing allowance, and
  • Investing in better and more permanent solutions such as the Housing First initiative alongside the additional spend in temporary accommodation, with wrap around support is vital.

The final report will follow in September and will include policy and practice recommendations.

Giving life new meaning: How BCHA is supporting ex-homeless people to achieve their aspirations

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.

A place to call home for asylum seekers in South Yorkshire

South Yorkshire Housing Association‘s Co-Director of Care, Health and Wellbeing, Charlotte Murray, shares more information about their growing partnership with ASSIST – a Sheffield based organisation who work with people who are seeking sanctuary and who have been refused asylum.

I’m a firm believer that no human – or organisation for that matter – survives alone. Together with Jochen Kortlaender (Accommodation Manager for ASSIST Sheffield), South Yorkshire Housing Association hopes to deliver a new feasibility study called Filling the Void, which has been funded by Crisis. 

ASSIST Sheffield provides accommodation, information and other support.  ASSIST has a 17-year history of amazing work with asylum seekers in our city. For the past two years, as part of our work as a Homes for Cathy member, we have been working with ASSIST and learning from their expertise to help contribute to ending migrant homelessness.

We’re not alone.  In 2007, Sheffield became the first City of Sanctuary in the UK and, in addition to ASSIST Sheffield, lots of organisations now take pride in the welcome it offers to people in need of safety and the provision of exceptional services and support.   

Covid-19 has been hard for everyone, but for people with no recourse to public funds – and the organisations that support them – it has been crippling. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the night shelter that ASSIST ran in a church hall in Sheffield had to close and remains closed. This previously provided essential emergency night-time accommodation for people who had no recourse to public funds. 

The Filling the Void feasibility study does what it says on the tin. Working with ASSIST, and drawing on insight from NACCOM and others, over the past two months we’ve been looking at the feasibility of using SYHA properties that are void (empty) to provide short-term emergency accommodation via ASSIST for asylum seekers.    

In theory this sounds straightforward and a total no-brainer but, as with any good feasibility study, the devil is in the detail. Luckily, we’ve been guided by expert project manager, Oliver Chamberlain, who has extensive experience of working with both ASSIST and SYHA in the past. In addition, our two years partnership with ASSIST has ensured that the Filling the Void project is building on a firm relationship, trust and understanding between housing (SYHA) and ASSIST.

So what have been the challenges? The feasibility is ongoing but the main things so far include:  

  • Housing availability/location. We don’t have many void properties in central Sheffield that aren’t turned around very quickly and re-let. Demand is higher than ever.
  • HMOs. To ensure ASSIST can meet the demand for emergency accommodation, and asylum seekers can support each other, HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation) are desirable. These properties require additional safety requirements. Transforming a general needs property into an HMO is too time-consuming and expensive to provide short-term accommodation.
  • State of properties. Often properties are void because they require major repairs and are unsuitable for habitation.
  • Bills, insurance, lease agreements. Smaller issues including who pays the council tax and utility bills on the property and how the management agreement should be formulated to ensure compliance have presented challenges.

Despite this, we have identified a couple of HMO properties in Sheffield which are void, and would otherwise remain so, as SYHA assesses them for disposal or redevelopment. We’re working with ASSIST on the details but hope that these properties will provide much needed short-term emergency accommodation via Assist for people with no recourse to public funds in Sheffield. This will be especially important as we exit from Covid-19.

We’ll keep working with ASSIST on the Filling the Void project and our wider partnership to ensure that we walk the talk in helping to contribute to ending migrant homelessness. Together we are stronger and we cannot walk alone.

If other Housing Providers would like to support this project, please get in touch. People can donate to ASSIST here.

Charlotte Murray, Co-Director of Care, Health and Wellbeing, South Yorkshire Housing Association

Discover more

Join our free Housing Solutions to Migrant Homelessness event

15 September 2021

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

Remembering our eighth commitment

Homes for Cathy members who are made up of housing associations and homelessness charities, are asked to do more to end homelessness by signing up to our nine aspirational commitments. With commitment number 8, focusing on ending migrant homelessness in the areas housing associations operate.

This is why we are supporting the National Housing Federation’s call to ‘to make sure those with no access to benefits or housing assistance don’t slip through the net.’ We support the NHF in their call to suspend the immigration condition that gives some people No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).

We also support the Local Government Association’s (LGA) call for a suspension of the NRPF condition. The NHF has written a joint letter with the Chartered Institute of Housing to the Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing, Luke Hall MP in which they are asking the government to lift restrictions on access to public funds for a period, ideally at least for a year. This would enable interim help to be given to all those experiencing and at risk of homelessness. They are also asking the government to consider granting access to Universal Credit for those with NRPF.

You can read the full letter here and find out more here.

photography of person walking on road
Photo by Leo Cardelli on Pexels.com

The supported housing scheme offering a lifeline to vulnerable women

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

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

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

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

Properties from general needs stock

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

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

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

Floating support to break homelessness cycle

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

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

AB’s Story

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

Successful tenancies start at the top

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

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

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

A whole-organisation commitment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clear results

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

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

Doing more together

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

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

Christine Ashton 

Executive Director of Housing

emh group

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

Croydon Council and Crystal Palace FC team up to help rough sleepers

Rough sleepers in Croydon can now get emergency shelter at a Premier League football stadium in extreme weather conditions under a deal between the council and Crystal Palace FC.

The football club and Croydon Council have entered into an agreement where a lounge at Selhurst Park is turned into a temporary overnight shelter for up 10 rough sleepers whenever night time temperatures are forecast to drop below freezing.

Under the deal, people formally identified as rough sleeping are referred by outreach staff to Selhurst Park, where they are welcomed with a camp bed for the night, a hot evening meal, breakfast and washing facilities.

The space is converted back for normal club use each morning, when specialists from the council’s Gateway homelessness prevention service and Thames Reach support workers offer longer-term accommodation, financial advice and help with any medical needs to prevent these rough sleepers from returning to the streets.

The arrangement with Crystal Palace takes effect whenever London temperatures are forecast to hit zero degrees or colder, which triggers the council’s severe weather emergency protocol. This emergency shelter is in addition to rough sleeper referrals who go to the Croydon Churches’ Floating Shelter throughout the winter.

When Selhurst Park is unavailable because of home matches, the council will continue to refer rough sleepers to other emergency shelters in Croydon and central London.

Councillor Alison Butler, deputy leader and cabinet member for homes and Gateway services, said: “Freezing temperatures are a particular safety risk for rough sleepers and this is a wonderful gesture by Crystal Palace for helping us reduce that risk. I do hope that the actions and support of our local Premier League football club will encourage more businesses in Croydon to get in touch and do what they can to help us address homelessness.  Crystal Palace are setting a standard for other clubs to follow.”

Crystal Palace Football Club chief executive Phil Alexander said: “We are delighted to be collaborating with Croydon Council and their partner agencies to ensure that rough sleepers can find an emergency shelter in the event of severe winter weather. The club wants to be a force for good in the community and we are happy to do our bit to help those most in need. A huge thank you to all the volunteers who have given their time freely to make this happen, including club staff, as well as to Sainsbury’s Crystal Palace for donating food.”

Crystal Palace Football Club has a strong relationship with the charity Crisis. First-team stars Mamadou Sakho and Christian Benteke visited the Crisis Skylight Centre for homeless people in Croydon last month.