People leaving prison are at high risk of homelessness – often they are released with nowhere to go or with accommodation options that are unsustainable. On release, they may struggle to find accommodation with a private landlord or to access welfare payments. Supported housing for ex-offenders, such as Longhurst’s Group‘s specialist accommodation and floating support service in Grimsby, can offer a lifeline. Rob Sumner, Service Manager – NE Lincs Housing Related Support, shares how the service is helping ex-offenders build independence and move forward with their lives.
Since the loss of industry in Grimsby, the area has become one of the most deprived in England. It has high unemployment, with more people claiming welfare benefits – including in-work benefits – than the national average.
The crime rate for the area currently sits at 134 per 1000 people, with 11,811 crimes committed in the area in 2021 – the majority of which are violence, sexual offences, criminal damage, and anti-social behaviour.
Longhurst Group’s Accommodation and Floating Support service in Grimsby operates 17 shared properties, mainly in the East Marsh region which is one of the most deprived areas in the town.
There are a total of 48 bed spaces, with customers occupying rooms on licence agreements. Four in five customers have some type of criminal history and the aim of the service is to provide customers with a second chance.
Often, we find that offenders are released back into the community with very little support. Customers are often told to attend probation at a certain time and are often left with no accommodation.
This has a huge impact on them re-offending and often when speaking to customers they’ll state they’ve previously re-offended to access prison as this is a better option than homelessness.
We risk assess all customers and try and find the most suitable placement for them. Our colleagues operate a positive risk approach and work closely with the local authority and Probation service and generally house customers who’ve been released from prison with no accommodation.
Colleagues operate a holistic supportive service. Our philosophy is that if it hasn’t worked before, that doesn’t mean that it won’t work now. Each stay, we hope to achieve some outcomes, whether they’re big or small, and build upon this on each time.
This proactivity works to reduce stigma around common issues, as many of the customers accessing the service feel that they’ve been let down and are judged based on their criminal history, drug use and/or mental health diagnosis.
The nature of the service means that a significant number of customers are recalled back to prison, usually for breaching bail conditions. To prevent homelessness and to meet the obligation in the Homelessness Reduction Act, our colleagues will work with probation officers, Housing Benefit teams and other statutory bodies to try to keep accommodation available for customers if the prison stay is short, but any stay in prison isn’t a barrier to accessing the service.
Each property has an allocated support worker who visits every day during the week. We don’t operate the service over a weekend.
This enables customers to build independence and to live with as much normality as possible, with the aim of supporting customers to move on to independent accommodation.
One of our customers stated that she’d used substances since she was 21. She’s now in her 40s. She’d committed several shop thefts to fund her drug use.
As a service, we find that criminality is often used to support drug use. Her last conviction was for criminal damage and assault, with the sentence being three years in prison. This was committed whilst under the influence of Valium.
She had lived in social housing for eight years but due to her criminality and sentencing, this property and tenancy was withdrawn. Upon release, she had no accommodation and ended up sleeping rough and fell back into drug use. The local authority made a referral to several homeless accommodation providers, and we accepted the referral and placed the customer into one of our shared accommodation units.
Since being in the service, our customer has managed to access support for substance misuse and accessed health appointments that she wouldn’t have been able to access previously.
She’s also received support with her mental health and is now on medication. She’s due to move into a new property with her partner and has stated that without the support of the service, this wouldn’t have ever been possible.
Rob Sumner is Service Manager – NE Lincs Housing Related Support at Homes for Cathy member Longhurst Group, one of the leading housing groups in the Midlands and East of England, providing more than 23,500 homes and a wide range of care and support services.