Just over a year since the government announced the first tranche of Rough Sleeper Accommodation Programme (RSAP) funding allocations, over 5,700 move-on homes for rough sleepers have been delivered by councils and their partners across England.
In that time, many Homes for Cathy member organisations have risen to RSAP challenge, working closely with their local authorities to co-produce move-on schemes and create the long-term capital assets that will contribute to local plans to end rough sleeping. For many, it’s been a steep learning curve, complicated by the pandemic, a booming property market and rocketing building costs.
Fulfilling housing associations’ social purpose
However, it’s shown that where there’s a will, there’s a way; housing associations committed to their social purpose are playing a valuable part in solving the homelessness crisis. What’s more, it’s clear that those organisations who already have strong relationship with local authorities – as set out in the Homes for Cathy commitments – have been able to act at speed to respond to local need.
With the recent announcement of RSAP bidding cycle five, now could be the last opportunity until 2025 for providers to deliver long-term move-on homes; the majority of the capital funding remaining is available for the financial year 2022/23, with only a small amount available in 2023/24. Revenue funding – to provide the support element that is crucial to helping former rough sleepers re-build their lives – is also available for the financial years 2022/23, 2023/24 and 2024/25. Councils and their partners have until 13 April 2022 to submit their co-produced proposals and work must start on site by 31 March 2023, with completion required by the end of March 2024.
Tips for co-producing a move-on scheme
So, what do bidders need to take into account when considering co-producing a move-on scheme? Here are our tips:
Focus on additional provision – DLUHC’s objective is to grow capacity in the sector, therefore no more than approximately 10 per cent of housing units will come from existing social housing stock currently in use or where historic grant has been invested.
Be creative – any route that can bring about a solution will be considered, from converting shops and commercial spaces to modern methods of construction (MMC) on brownfield sites.
Flexibility is welcome – dispersed, self-contained accommodation can offer the best outcomes but it’s recognised that, in high value property areas in particular, acquiring or building that type of property may not be viable, so shared accommodation is an option.
Sustainability is key – for example, new build properties must have a minimum life expectancy of 60 years, ‘off the shelf’ dwellings that are acquired must a life expectancy of 30 years and longer leases will be prioritised.
Social investment is an option – for providers who would have difficulty accessing funding, social investment funds can offer a solution to purchasing properties at speed.
Help is on hand – the bidding process is just the start of an on-going relationship with Homes England; the team is available throughout the delivery period to help iron out any issues that providers may encounter along the way.
For more information, the full RSAP guidance is available here.
Vicki McDonald, Homes for Cathy Communications & Marketing Lead
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.
By Iain Turner, Corporate Compliance Manager at Wandle
Wandle is a founding member of Homes for Cathy and, like many other members, was set-up in the 1960’s in response to concerns about rising levels of homelessness. Our founding members wanted to provide homes for families in desperate need of the stability and security a good home brings. Over 50 years on, that aim hasn’t changed, and we are still working to try and end homelessness, by providing safe and affordable homes in South London.
Few people will value a safe and secure home more than a survivor of domestic abuse. Under our long-term strategic plan, we began a project in 2019 to overhaul our approach to domestic abuse. Our aim is to achieve accreditation from the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) – an organisation which is driving a step change in tackling domestic abuse across the social housing sector.
Two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales. It’s an issue that can impact anyone, from any walk of life – regardless of gender, sexuality, class or race. Ian Wright’s recent documentary about growing up with an abusive father shone a light on the long-term impact it can have on children and grown men too. According to research by homelessness charity St Mungo’s, 32 per cent of homeless women said domestic abuse contributed to their homelessness.
My experience leading our project
Our domestic abuse project is sponsored by our Chief Executive, Tracey Lees, who has been passionately talking about the subject for as long as I’ve been at Wandle. When Tracey asked me to be the project lead I was surprised. I was Wandle’s Policy Officer at the time, working in the Governance Team. I have no hands-on housing management experience, no lived experience of domestic abuse, and had very little knowledge or expertise on the subject.
Fast forward almost three years I’m a trained domestic abuse champion, I’ve attended countless webinars and learned more than I could have imagined about the impact of abuse and how housing providers can support survivors. It’s been emotionally draining at times, but I’ve learned to openly talk about the subject, regardless of whether it might make some people feel uncomfortable (while being mindful of the impact this can have on those who have witnessed or lived through abuse). It’s an uncomfortable topic but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it.
Supporting our staff
One of the key changes we have made at Wandle is to acknowledge that anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of abuse. It’s not something that affects just our residents – it’s something many of our colleagues will live with too. Many providers may think just about their residents when addressing domestic abuse – and that’s the approach we initially were taking – but this changed when we made contact with Hestia and went through their ‘Everyone’s Business’ programme. Hestia worked with us to develop an employee focus policy, raise awareness and train managers and a group of champions in how to support colleagues who may be enduring abuse or supporting someone who is. This work has obviously helped inform our approach for residents too but having a separate policy has really helped us make clear to staff that support is there if they need it.
Meeting our commitments
So, how does our focus on supporting survivors of domestic abuse link to our work as Homes for Cathy members? We have signed up to the nine commitments, one of which is meeting the needs of vulnerable tenant groups. Given that potentially one in three of our female tenants will endure domestic abuse in their lifetime, we know that tackling domestic abuse certainly helps us towards meeting that commitment. There are numerous ways we can do this, whether it’s transferring someone to a property away from their abuser or putting extra security in place to keep someone safe in their home. Even just signposting to other support services can be a vital first step.
There is still work to do, but we’ve definitely started seeing the benefits of our new approach. We have unfortunately seen a rise in cases since the pandemic hit, but we’ve also provided more support to survivors than ever. We have numerous examples of our Housing Team going out of their way to support survivors, even arranging removals in the dead of night so that a young parent could move without her abuser knowing. We are offering smart doorbells to survivors so they can see who’s at their door and we have a new online web app, developed by Hestia and the Post Office. This signposts to local and national resources, while leaving no internet history, which might otherwise be found by abusers.
Most importantly our automatic response is to believe anyone who tells us they are enduring abuse and will investigate any reports of potential concerns. There’s no doubt that tackling domestic abuse can help Homes for Cathy members meet their commitments, sustain tenancies, and most importantly save lives.
Iain Turner, Corporate Compliance Manager, Wandle
Wandle is a founding member of the Homes for Cathy group. Founded in 1967 as the Merton Family Housing Trust, it has since grown into an organisation with over 7,000 homes across nine south London boroughs.
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 groupto 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.
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
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.
Executive Director of Housing
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 email@example.com.
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 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
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.
Homes for Cathy member, One Housing shares how Leo went from sleeping rough, to becoming a teaching assistant.
“My life was crumbling before my eyes and I felt helpless. The dedicated staff at Arlington believed in me and gave me the resources I needed to pursue my goals of getting back to teaching and serving the community.”
So says 47-year-old Leo, a teacher from Brazil. Having moved back to London after living abroad, Leo struggled to find work. Before long he found himself sleeping on the streets and struggling with depression. He moved to Arlington about a year ago after being referred to us by Focus Homeless Outreach, an outreach service for street homeless people and homeless people in hostels.
Since moving to Arlington, Leo has attended several of our training programs that have helped him to get back on his feet.
Training Coordinator, Santiago, worked with Leo to pursue his goals of being a teacher for children with special needs through a series of personal development training sessions. The Employment & Training service sponsored Level 1 and 2 of the Teaching Assistant programme. Leo passed both courses successfully, and is now working as a part-time teaching assistant at a school for children with special needs.
“Leo was keen to attend our training sessions and re-build his confidence after his mental health problems. He’s a proactive resident who loves to participate in our programmes and is great to have around”, commented Santiago.
Leo’s passion to get back into teaching and back to a steady life also excited one of our partner agencies, Beam. This is a new online platform that uses crowdfunding to get homeless people into training that will help them find good opportunities. Leo worked with Beam to set a target of £725 to cover his courses. Within a month, he attracted well-wishers to donate to his cause, making him the first successful member of Beam to get funded for the advanced level 3 programme of Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education.
Once completed, Leo will be eligible to look for full-time teaching work in the UK and move on from Arlington.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Holly Dagnall, NCHA Director of Homes and Wellbeing, tells us more about NCHA’s commitment to tackle homelessness:
“Homelessness and the threat of eviction, particularly from the increasing rents of the private rented sector and pressure from changes in the benefits system are completely unacceptable. With current stats showing that the average lifespan of a rough sleeper is just 47 years old and 160,000 households are currently experiencing the worst forms of homelessness, it’s clear that we need to work together as a sector to do more to support society’s most vulnerable.
“At NCHA, we’re determined to do our bit, recently publishing our Homes for Cathy document, which reinforces our commitment to the Homes for Cathy group and outlines some of the work we currently do to tackle homelessness in the East Midlands.
“Here are some of the ways in which we’re currently helping by:
reviewing our Allocations Policy alongside our offer of tenancy support to reduce the number of households excluded from being allocated an NCHA property.
providing temporary accommodation and resettlement support for households experiencing homelessness in Nottingham City, Loughborough, Derbyshire and Leicester City.
recognising that lifting people out of poverty is the key to preventing homelessness. This year we will review the provision of our tenancy support services across the Homes and Wellbeing Department. We have a range of support for people experiencing problems and provide tenancy support and debt advice for our social and affordable housing customers alongside our specialist homelessness support. We also provide a welfare fund and an employability project – working to help people to secure better paid employment.
reviewing our policy and practice on evictions, ensuring consistent practice across the Homes and Wellbeing Department from a ‘support then enforce’ perspective.
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.”