Tag Archives: sleepingrough

Sign up to nine commitments to reduce homelessness

Welcome David BThe Homes for Cathy group is calling on housing associations to sign up to nine commitments that could make a “major impact” on homelessness, explains David Bogle, Chief Executive of Hightown Housing Association.

There is a homelessness crisis going on. At the last count there were almost 160,000 homeless households in Great Britain, including more than 9,000 people rough sleeping and 42,000 in emergency accommodation.

Housing associations must do more, much more to reduce these numbers – that is the central message of the Homes for Cathy group of housing associations.

That is why, working with housing charity Crisis, the Homes for Cathy group has come up with nine commitments which we are asking our members to achieve and which we believe could make a real major impact on homelessness. These are:

  1. To contribute to the development and execution of local authority homelessness strategies.
  2. To operate flexible allocations and eligibility polices which allow individual applicants’ unique sets of circumstances and housing histories to be considered.
  3. To offer constructive solutions to applicants who aren’t deemed eligible for an offer of a home.
  4. To not make homeless any tenant seeking to prevent their homelessness (as defined in the Crisis plan).
  5. To commit to meeting the needs of vulnerable tenant groups.
  6. To work in partnership to provide a range of affordable housing options which meet the needs of all homeless people in their local communities.
  7. To ensure that properties offered to homeless people are ready to move into.
  8. To contribute to ending migrant homelessness in the areas housing associations operate.
  9. To lobby, challenge and inspire others to support ending homelessness
    Many of these commitments are challenging.

Our hard-working housing management staff will be throwing their hands up at some of them.

We are calling them ‘aspirational’. We are suggesting that they be used as a tool to develop policies and practices. To deliver the nine commitments, most housing associations will need to find more resources. But housing associations have resources.

Although many housing associations have been providing excellent homes and services for homeless people for decades, it is plainly not enough. Yet the relief of homelessness has to be central to our social purpose. So can we accept an ongoing responsibility for the families whose tenancy has failed so as to ensure that they are not evicted into homelessness?

“The relief of homelessness has to be central to our social purpose.”

Can we provide furniture, curtains and carpets for those homeless people who we house who cannot provide them themselves?

Can we do more for those homeless people who we turn down because they don’t meet the qualifications for our homes?

Can we build or acquire more homes for homeless people?

Can we make a real impact on rough sleeping by working with local authorities to provide some homes for migrant workers even where they have no recourse to public funds?

For most housing associations, the answer to these questions must be “yes, we can” – if there is sufficient will and sufficient resources are allocated.We owe it to the tens of thousands of homeless families and rough sleepers to step up our efforts.These nine Homes for Cathy commitments are a starting point.

This blog was first published in Inside Housing, 10th July 2018

Homes for Cathy meets Vicky Hudson, Operations Manager of homelessness schemes in St Albans & Hatfield

Vicky Husdon, is the Operations Manager at Open Door, a night shelter and daytime drop-in for vulnerable people in St Albans, as well as homelessness services in Hatfield. They are managed by Hightown Housing Association

Vicky Husdon, Operations manager

Vicky Husdon, Operations Manager, Open Door

You’ve worked in the homeless sector for quite a while what changes have you seen?

I’ve been working in homelessness for 15 years now and the changes I’ve seen in the housing and homeless sector are massive. We’ve seen changes in benefits, massive reduction in grant funding for homelessness services, more affordable rents coming up for housing associations and local authorities offering less accommodation. Local Councils having to turn people away. Another important factor is there’s not enough money in the NHS for mental health services, so we are seeing more and more people who are profoundly unwell who are slipping through the net.

 Can you expand on that?

At a time when we at our most advanced technologically, we are having to help people that, 10 or 15 years ago would have been in supported housing. They would have had mental health support. Whereas now they are not meeting the thresholds.

How many people have used the Open Door service and how has this changed over the last five years?

In 2013/14 we had 182 people using the night shelter, plus 175 referrals. By 2017/18, this was 144 using the night shelter but 277 referrals. As other homelessness services have closed down we are getting the brunt of the referrals. We are getting more referrals from prisons and probation trusts, than we used to have. Presumably, because there is less money available for supported accommodation for those coming out of prison. At least they are being offered the option of a night shelter, in this area.   I went to a Homeless Link event recently, where I heard that prison leavers in one London borough, were being given sleeping bags and tents as a resettlement option.

Where are the referrals coming from?

A lot of people self-refer but the reason they self-refer is because the council can’t help them. The Homelessness Reduction Act hopefully means they will get a fair hearing and get the opportunity to present their case.  Local authorities have a statutory duty to help these people but there isn’t always enough funding or housing stock available for them to help.

Local authorities need to absorb the spirit of the Act. It’s hard because there is still that gatekeeping attitude, with staff having worked in housing for 20 or 30 years, it’s a whole new mind-set that they need to adopt.

It’s was really interesting to hear Bob Blackam MP, at the Homes for Cathy conference say how within the first month of the Act being in force, that four people had been turned away by their local council but had challenged this.  They had found the right organisation to help support them to challenge the decision and they were given accommodation.

How can housing associations can help?

Well, I think it’s great that Hightown’s got a Financial Inclusion Officer, to actually work on homeless prevention.  There are people in social housing tenancies who would have previously had support from mental health services.  They would have regularly been seeing care co-ordinators but now they don’t meet the thresholds for getting assistance. So they can end up getting into trouble and getting into arrears. If there’s no one there to guide them and support them through the current benefit system, then they end up in massive debt.

Having someone like Maureen, our Financial Inclusion Officer at Hightown, helps them manage their affairs, deal with their debt and navigate the complicated benefits system.

So dealing with debt is a major factor?

When I started working in homelessness, I was a Welfare Rights Advisor, for the first five years and then moved into Supported Housing but was also training people in Welfare Rights.  There was a turning point when pay day loans came out. The number of people who have become homeless because they’ve got into tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt because they took out a couple of pay day loans, that they can never pay back. They are just trying to pay off the interest, month after month.

There’s not enough advisers out there now, with the cuts in funding to services like the Citizens Advice Bureau, to be able to help negotiate the benefits system so people give before they even start and end up in sanctions. Or they go to food banks, so having a Financial Inclusion Officer is a massive step forwards. Also having a floating support team who are funded by Herts County Council, help people stay in their homes. It’s also about housing officers actually looking out for the signs that someone is struggling to cope and referring them to appropriate support.

What more can be done?

By training housing officers on what to look out for, you might be able to address a behaviour before it leads to someone being evicted for arrears or anti-social behaviour.

Also, we have seen some cut backs in local Drugs & Alcohol services in the local area but we are trying to work on a solution. Carla, the scheme manger here, and I have been in contact with the organisation that provides the Drug and Alcohol support in this district and we are working on setting up a drop in support sessions, at Open Door. To work with clients from Kent, Martin House and from Oysterfields our floating support service. That’s what we are aiming for, sessions would be once a week or once a fortnight.

It’s not going to fix everything, they would still need to travel to access a doctor and get a prescription but there’s would be somebody here to build those partnerships.

 

Interviewed by Nicola Emmett, for Homes for Cathy