Tag Archives: homes for cathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These pathways include:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

And it was completely shocking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

 

How can we end homelessness in Britain?

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

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

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

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

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

NCHA is a Homes for Cathy member.

Cardboard Citizens present #Citizens Do

Award-winning theatre company Cardboard Citizens has today announced Citizens Do, a grass-roots movement which aims to engage and empower everyday citizens to help tackle homelessness. The campaign has been gaining momentum over the past three months as Cardboard Citizens toured the UK with Cathy, working with audience members to collate suggestions on how the public can help people with experience of homelessness.

Inspired by Ken Loach and Jeremy Sandford’s ground-breaking film Cathy Come Home, Ali Taylor’s Cathy continued Cardboard Citizens’ exploration of the state of housing and homelessness. Based on true stories, the timely drama explored the impact of spiralling social housing costs, gentrification and the challenges of forced relocation through the compelling story of one family. Following each performance the cast discussed the issues raised in the play with audience members, asking for suggestions on how the general public could be empowered to make a difference and tackle homelessness.

During the three month tour, audience members were asked for their own ideas about how they can help the homeless. Over 1000 people so far have signed up for the movement and Cardboard Citizens is now calling on the general public to sign up by Wednesday 23 May at www.citizensdo.com or share their actions using #CitizensDo.

Adrian Jackson, Cardboard Citizens’ Artistic Director added: “After the grandeur of the House of Lords last year, we are excited to live up to our name and try seeing what we mere citizens can do to make the world a better place. It’s an exciting experiment in using theatre to mobilise people.”

 

Citizens Do square

 

 

 

Housing associations must be part of the solution on homelessness

Councils and charities frequently see housing associations as part of the problem when tackling homelessness and this must change, says David Bogle

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The Homes for Cathy group of 71 housing associations has been working closely with the housing charity, Crisis, building up to the Homes for Cathy national conference on Monday, 30 April in London. Crisis is working on its Plan to End Homelessness and this will be previewed at the Homes for Cathy conference.There have been several joint workshops with Crisis and Homes for Cathy housing associations that are feeding into the Crisis plan, and eventually into a Homes for Cathy housing association plan or charter.

“Factors have combined to make housing associations more cautious and more inclined to introduce detailed pre-tenancy and affordability checks.”

However, the feedback from Crisis staff and case workers is that housing associations are frequently seen by local authorities and housing charities as being part of the problem when it comes to tackling homelessness locally; that housing associations are erecting barriers which sometimes prevent homeless families and homeless people being housed and sustaining a tenancy.
Perhaps rent cuts, benefit cuts, universal credit, housing support cuts, court delays and other factors have combined to make housing associations more cautious and more inclined to introduce detailed pre-tenancy and affordability checks.
But many housing associations were originally set up to house homeless people or poorly housed people and in response to previous housing crises.
As charities with the resources to house homeless people, we have to be working with the local authorities, who have the statutory responsibilities, and the local housing charities. We must be playing our part.
So what practical steps can housing associations take? Housing associations are already providing homes (temporary and permanent) and support for homeless people and clearly, in the medium and long term, there is the need to build more homes at rents that people can afford. But are there any short-term solutions that housing associations may offer to hard-pressed local authorities which have the Homelessness Reduction Actto implement? Can we purchase homes for shared housing? Can we set up social lettings agencies? Can we provide modular homes on any unused land? And can local authorities put aside some of the money they are spending on temporary accommodation to support such initiatives? Can health or crime budgets be used to provide even temporary support for homeless people if homes can be made available?

“The rising homelessness numbers are a national disgrace”

The Homes for Cathy group has argued that housing associations should be collecting and using information on, for instance, their lettings to homeless people and their evictions, to try to improve their practices and to examine whether safeguards and mitigations can be put in place to allow them to house and support more homeless people – perhaps with help from other agencies. As many people have observed, the rising homelessness numbers are a national disgrace and a personal disaster for those affected.
The government has made a commitment to halving rough sleeping numbers by 2022 and ending rough sleeping by 2027 and we wait to see what resources will be put behind this commitment.
But housing associations have to step up to the plate. This is about our social purpose. We all must examine what we are doing and do everything we can to increase our contribution.
Housing associations have to be seen as part of the solution to this national crisis not part of the problem.
David Bogle, Chief Executive, Hightown Housing Association

 

Housing associations should be judged on what they do for homeless, disabled and vulnerable people.

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David Bogle, Chief Executive, Hightown Housing Association

The Homes for Cathy group represents more than 50 housing associations that are gravely concerned about the numbers of homeless people in Britain today and are campaigning for more resources to be devoted to reducing these numbers and supporting those who are homeless.

We have been working on a Homes for Cathy action plan or statement of intent and have welcomed the opportunity to work with Crisis as it consults on its ‘plan to end homelessness’.

Homelessness places huge strains on our local and national public services. Shelter has recently estimated that 307,000 people are sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation in Britain – a rise of 13,000 in one year.

The Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) is tasked with ensuring that “value for money is obtained from public investment in social housing”.

So in the Homes for Cathy group’s response to the HCA consultation on the Value For Money Standard, we argue that this duty should include measuring the contribution of housing associations to reducing the burden on local government, the NHS, the police and other public services and, in particular, to alleviating the plight of homeless people.

Because social value and social return on investment are more difficult to measure, it is tempting for value for money to be defined in terms of purely financial metrics, with no account taken of the level of services provided or of the type and tenure of the housing delivered.

“The current Value for Money Standard does not place sufficient emphasis on the duty of housing associations to house and support homeless people.”

The Homes for Cathy group has been concerned that the current Value for Money Standard does not place sufficient emphasis on the duty of housing associations to house and support homeless people who do not have the resources to resolve their housing problems through the private rented sector or through homeownership options including shared ownership.

The HCA consultation on the Value for Money Standard, the Chartered Institute of Housing’s ‘Rethinking Social Housing’ project and the consultation on the forthcoming Social Housing Green Paper are welcome opportunities to review the role of housing associations.

All the indications are that we now have a government that appreciates the huge contribution housing associations can and do make – not only to the national housebuilding programme but also to sustaining local communities and reducing the burden on public services.

So let us look beyond the financial metrics and see value for money in a wider context. Let us work with the regulator to develop standards that measure the social impact of the work of housing associations and the social return on the funding we receive directly or indirectly from government.

“Let us look beyond the financial metrics and see value for money in a wider context.”

It can be done. Last year, Hightown commissioned consultancy RSM to produce a social impact report using a European Commission-approved ‘principles for impact’ measurement to demonstrate the savings to the public sector (the NHS, the police, local government) from our homelessness services in St Albans.

Housing associations can collect statistics on the number of homeless families and homeless people who are housed each year. We can even collect figures for the number of evictions we carry out.

As housing associations, we should be judged primarily by what we do for people who are vulnerable, homeless or disabled. Let us try to measure those outcomes.

David Bogle, Chief Executive, Hightown Housing Association

 

HA founders return to mark Cathy Come Home 50th

Two founders of Shepherds Bush Housing Group, with 170 years between them, returned to where they started the group, to mark the 50th anniversary of Cathy Come Home

Shepherds Bush Housing Group welcomed back two of its founding members as part of a series of events for Homes for Cathy.

The Rev John Asbridge, aged 90, former vicar of St Stephen’s Church in Shepherds Bush and his curate Wilfrid Wood, aged 80, who went on to become Britain’s first black bishop, were guests at an event to look at homelessness in 2016.

SBHG chief executive, Paul Doe, said: “It was a pleasure to see so many people who care about homelessness and who want to make a difference.

“It was a particularly pleasure to see John and Wilfred back where SBHG began almost 50 years ago. Both have kept the passion they had for making a difference in the world.”

The event at St Stephen’s Church included a Q&A and panel discussion on homelessness in 2016. The panel was made up of:

Andy Slaughter MP for Hammersmith and Shadow Minister for Housing and London
Cllr Stephen Cowan – leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council
Alison Mohammed – director of services at Shelter

Andy Slaughter said: “Almost all the indicators are showing a real growth in homelessness. Homelessness if not just street homelessness but it is about hidden homelessness.

“It’s about people who are living in entirely unsuitable conditions. Homelessness is on the increase but it’s on the agenda again thanks in part to the film’s anniversary and the newly published Homeless Reduction Bill.

“You can pass laws, you can give local authorities new duties but if you’re not actually resolving the supply crisis, then you are really putting on a sticking plaster.”

Alison Mohammed said: “Things have changed a great deal from 1966 but the human story remains the same. The slums have been cleared, we now have a legal safety net…but the shortage of social housing and insecurity in the private rented sector and unregulated private rents and inadequate benefits for social and private tenants mean the situation is still pretty bad.”

Cllr Steve Cowan talked of the need for genuinely affordable housing and paid tribute to the founders of the SBHG and said that homelessness was intolerable in 2016.

He said: “Everything we have inherited, we inherited because someone went out and fought for it. They built what they thought would be a better world.”

Shepherd’s Bush Housing Group